Stent for a blocked bile duct

If the pancreatic cancer is blocking your bile duct and causing jaundice, you may have a stent put into the bile duct.

What's in the 'Stents for a blocked bile duct' section?


What is jaundice?

Jaundice is when your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. This happens when you get a build-up of bile in your body. Bile is a liquid which your liver makes to help you digest food. Sometimes, pancreatic cancer can block the tube which carries the bile. This tube is called the bile duct. If this tube gets blocked, the bile builds up and you may get jaundice. Read more about jaundice and pancreatic cancer.

What is a stent?

Stents are small tubes that are put into the bile duct. Pancreatic cancer can also block the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. This causes sickness. A stent can be put into the duodenum to open it and treat the sickness. Read more about stents for the duodenum here.

Your symptoms should start to improve soon after having a stent put in.

  • You may have a stent put in to treat your jaundice if you can’t have surgery to remove the cancer.
  • If you have jaundice and your cancer can be removed by surgery but you are not yet well enough to have the operation, you may have a stent put into the bile duct before the surgery.
  • If your cancer can be removed by surgery and you are well enough to have the operation straight away, the surgery will treat the jaundice.
  • You may have a stent put in to treat jaundice if you are to going to have chemotherapy before surgery.

There can be problems with a stent. For example, it can get blocked or move out of place. There is also a risk of getting an infection or an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis). But your doctor or nurse can treat these problems if they happen.

A diagram of a biliary stent

Advantages and disadvantages of stents

Advantages

  • The stent should open up the blocked bile duct and relieve the jaundice.
  • You should start feeling better quickly, normally within a couple of days of having the stent put in.
  • Treating the jaundice may mean you can start or continue treatment for the cancer.

Disadvantages

  • The stent may get blocked and the symptoms you had before may come back.
  • There is a chance of getting an infection after having a stent put in. Infections can be treated with antibiotics.
  • There is a small chance of your stent moving after it has been put in. If this happens it may need to be replaced.
  • The procedure to put the stent in can cause pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas.

What is bypass surgery?

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 surgery called 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.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse


You might want to write down any questions you have for your doctor to take with you. You may also want to take someone with you when you see your doctor. They can write down the answers to any questions you have and any important information.

  • Will a stent help me feel better?
  • How quickly will I feel better after the stent is put in?
  • Are there any problems with stents?
  • How will a stent affect any future treatment such as chemotherapy?

Read our fact sheet about stents to treat jaundice caused by pancreatic cancer

To read more about using stents to treat jaundice, download our fact sheet, Stents to treat jaundice caused by pancreatic cancer.

You can also order a physical copy.

Order our fact sheet
Biliary stents fact sheet thumbnail

Questions about stents?

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you have any questions.

You can also speak to our nurses on our free Support Line with any questions or worries you might have about a stent.

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

Updated October 2021

Review date October 2023