Bypass surgery if you have pancreatic cancer

Bypass surgery is a way to treat some symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer. It may be used if the cancer blocks your duodenum, making you feel and be sick. Or if it blocks the bile duct, causing jaundice.

What's in the 'Bypass surgery' section?


If the cancer has blocked your duodenum or bile duct, bypass surgery gets around the blockage to treat your symptoms. It doesn’t remove the cancer. A different type of surgery is used to remove the cancer.

Whether bypass surgery is an option for you will depend on your symptoms, your diagnosis and how fit you are.

Bypass surgery during an operation to remove the cancer

Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer (such as the Whipple’s) may be offered to some people. But sometimes after starting the operation, the surgeon may find that it’s not possible to remove the cancer. Bypass surgery may be done instead if the cancer has blocked your duodenum or bile duct, or to stop it blocking them in the future. This can help to treat your symptoms.

If this is something that might happen, your surgeon will discuss it before your operation.

Read more about surgery to remove pancreatic cancer.

Bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

After you eat, the food goes from your stomach into your duodenum. If the cancer has blocked the duodenum, food can’t pass out of the stomach. It builds up in your stomach and makes you feel and be sick. This is called gastric outlet obstruction.

Bypass surgery gets around the blockage, making a new way for food to pass out of the stomach into the duodenum. The operation is called a gastrojejunostomy.

You may have bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum if your cancer can’t be removed by surgery. Another option may be to have a tube called a stent put into the duodenum to open the blockage. Your doctor should consider bypass surgery rather than a duodenal stent if you are having longer term treatment.

When is bypass surgery used for a blocked bile duct?

Pancreatic cancer can cause jaundice by blocking the bile duct. The bile duct is the tube that takes bile from the liver to the duodenum. Bile is a fluid which the liver makes to help digest food. Jaundice turns your skin or eyes yellow. It can also make you feel itchy and causes pale poo and dark urine.

If you have cancer that can’t be removed by surgery and your bile duct is blocked, you will usually have a stent put in to unblock it. But sometimes bypass surgery is used to make a new way for bile to flow to the intestines, passing around the blocked bile duct. This is usually done if you were originally having surgery to remove the cancer but that wasn’t possible. The operation is called a choledochojejunostomy or hepaticojejunostomy.

You may have bypass surgery for both a blocked duodenum and blocked bile duct at the same time. This is called a double bypass.

Advantages and disadvantages of bypass surgery

Bypass surgery is a big operation, so it’s important to talk about the advantages and disadvantages with your surgeon before you decide to have this surgery. Ask them any questions you have.

Advantages

  • The surgery bypasses the blockage and should help your symptoms.
  • It may be an option if a stent is not suitable for you.
  • Bypass surgery avoids the problem of stents getting blocked.
  • It is a longer lasting way to treat your symptoms.

Disadvantages

  • You may have some side effects, but these can usually be managed.
  • You will need to stay in hospital for several days after bypass surgery, and it may take a few months to fully recover.
  • Bypass surgery is major surgery and there are possible risks.

What are the possible risks?

  • As with all surgery, there is a risk of getting a chest infection or blood clots in a leg vein (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or lung (pulmonary embolism or PE).
  • Your wound may get infected – you will be given antibiotics to reduce this risk.
  • There is a small risk of bleeding during the operation and you may need a blood transfusion to replace the blood lost. This is not common.
  • There are risks to having a general anaesthetic, which are the medicines that put you to sleep so you don’t feel pain during surgery. But an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic is very rare.
  • As with any surgery, there is a small risk of dying.

Read about bypass surgery

To read more about bypass surgery for pancreatic cancer, download our fact sheet, Bypass surgery if you have pancreatic cancer

Download our fact sheet
Bypass surgery fact sheet thumbnail

Speak to our nurses

You can ask our specialist nurses on our free Support Line any questions about bypass surgery.

Speak to our nurses
A specialist nurse taking a phone call.

Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023