What does bypass surgery involve?

This page has information on what happens before, during and after bypass surgery for pancreatic cancer.

What's in the 'Bypass surgery' section?

Before the surgery

You won’t be able to eat anything for at least six hours before your operation. You may be able to drink water up to two hours before your surgery. The hospital will give you more information about when you can eat and drink before the operation. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have diabetes as this might affect your care before surgery.

What happens during the operation?

Bypass surgery usually takes two to four hours, depending on your cancer and the type of surgery you are having.

The operation may be open surgery, when one large cut (incision) is made in the tummy. In some hospitals you might be able to have this done by keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.

With keyhole surgery, the surgeon makes several small cuts (about 1-2 cms) in the tummy. A long thin tube with a camera on the end (a laparoscope) is put in through one hole. The surgeon then puts surgical instruments in through the other holes, guided by the images from the camera.

Bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

For a blocked duodenum, the surgeon connects the stomach to the small intestine below the blockage. This allows food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine and should stop you feeling sick.

Before bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

A diagram showing a blocked duodenum

After bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum


A diagram of the pancreas after bypass surgery for a blocked duodenum

Bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

For a blocked bile duct, the surgeon cuts the bile duct above the blockage and connects it to the small intestine. This allows the bile to flow again.

Before bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

A diagram showing the pancreas with a blocked bile duct

After bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct


A diagram showing the pancreas after bypass surgery for a blocked bile duct

After your bypass surgery

You will have some tubes or drains put in during the operation, which are usually removed in the first couple of days. These may include:

  • a tube in a vein in your arm or neck for fluids or medicine
  • tubes in your tummy to drain any fluids
  • a thin tube called a catheter through your urethra (the tube you pee through) into your bladder, to drain urine.

After the operation you will have painkillers for any pain. You should be able to drink and eat soft foods, and after a few days you may be able to eat solid foods. But this may depend on how well you are recovering from the operation.

You will probably spend four to ten days in hospital if there are no problems, any pain is well controlled and you are eating again.

Check-ups and recovery after surgery

You will normally have a check-up appointment two to six weeks after you go home from hospital. The hospital team will check your wound and ask about your recovery and any concerns you have. They will also talk to you about any more treatment you might need, such as chemotherapy.

The bypass surgery may help with your symptoms, but it won’t cure the cancer. You may be able to have chemotherapy to control the growth of the cancer.

Bypass surgery is major surgery and it may take two to three months to recover. You will feel tired and weak at first, and your wound will need time to heal.

Gentle physical activity, such as walking, may help you recover from the surgery. Your medical team can give you advice about the best type of exercise to do.

Questions about bypass surgery?

If you have any questions about bypass surgery, speak to your doctor or nurse.

You can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse, Lisa, talks on the phone to offer support.

Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023