Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

This information is for people with pancreatic cancer who have been offered surgery (an operation) to remove the cancer. It explains what to expect from surgery.

Key facts

  • Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer is the best treatment for people with pancreatic cancer that has not spread outside the pancreas . It can help people live longer.
  • Pancreatic cancer surgery is only suitable for people who are fit and well enough to have the operation, and if there is no sign the cancer has spread.
  • There are different types of surgery, depending on where the cancer is. The Whipple’s operation is the most common type.
  • If the cancer is close to major blood vessels, you may be offered chemotherapy before surgery, sometimes with radiotherapy. This may shrink the cancer so that surgery is then possible.
  • Both the cancer itself and removing part of the pancreas may cause problems with digesting food, fatigue (extreme tiredness) and diabetes. Your medical team can help manage these problems.
  • You may be offered chemotherapy after surgery, as long as you are well enough. This is to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back.
  • It usually takes at least a few months to recover after surgery to remove pancreatic cancer, and sometimes longer. This is different for everyone.

Talk to your medical team about any worries or questions you have. You and your family can also speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Our specialist nurse, Lisa, explains surgery as a treatment option for pancreatic cancer. She explains what it involves and what to expect when recovering from surgery.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and surgery

If you are having surgery you may need to take a COVID test before going into hospital. If your test is positive, your surgery will probably be delayed.

If you get coronavirus soon after your operation, you may be more likely to get ill, especially if your spleen has been removed. This is because the spleen helps to protect against infections.

Read more about COVID and pancreatic cancer

Read our fact sheet about surgery

To read more about surgery for pancreatic cancer, download our fact sheet, Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer.

You can also order a physical copy.

Order our fact sheet
PCUK Surgery fact sheet 2021

Where can I get more information and help?

Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer is a big operation and can affect you emotionally as well as physically. But there is support available – both for you and your family and friends.

If you are having or have had surgery, our Side by Side telephone service gives you the chance to speak to someone else who has had surgery.

You can also read stories from people who have had surgery in our Real Life Stories.

You can speak to our nurses on our free Support Line about any questions or concerns you may have about surgery.

Read more about coping with pancreatic cancer

Acknowledgements and references

We would like to thank the following people who reviewed this information.

  •  Anita Balakrishnan, Consultant HPB Surgeon, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dawn Elliott, Lead Upper GI Clinical Nurse Specialist, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust
  • Jeremy French, Consultant HPB, Sarcoma and Transplant Surgeon, The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Charles Imber, Consultant HPB and Liver Transplant Surgeon, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • Lena Loia, Lead Surgical HPB Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Lay Information Reviewers
  • Pancreatic Cancer UK Specialist Nurses


Email us at for references to the sources of information used to write this information.

Updated January 2024

Review date January 2026