Advantages and disadvantages of surgery for pancreatic cancer

If surgery is an option for you, it’s important to know about the advantages and disadvantages, so that you are prepared.

Surgery is the most effective treatment for pancreatic cancer. If you have any questions about the advantages and disadvantages, speak to your doctor.

Advantages

  • The main advantage of surgery is that it is the most effective treatment for removing pancreatic cancer and can help you to live longer.
  • Some of your symptoms such as jaundice, pain and problems with digestion may improve after surgery.
  • If the cancer does come back, you may be able to have further treatment with chemotherapy to control the cancer and your symptoms.

Disadvantages

  • Pancreatic surgery is major surgery and as with any major operation there are some risks.
  • You will need to stay in hospital afterwards to recover. This may be between a week and two weeks but could be longer if there are problems.
  • Depending on the type of surgery, it can take three to nine months to recover. For some people it could take up to a year to fully recover.
  • You may get side effects from surgery, such as problems digesting your food and diabetes. But the cancer may cause these symptoms even if you don’t have surgery.

What are the risks of surgery?

Surgery for pancreatic cancer can be complicated and as with any major surgery, there are some risks.

  • There is a risk of bleeding and you may need a blood transfusion. Any major operation has a risk of bleeding. Your medical team will manage this if it happens.
  • You may get an infection such as a chest or wound infection – you will be given antibiotics to reduce this risk.
  • There is a risk of a leak from where the pancreas, bile duct or stomach are joined to the bowel. These leaks often settle without needing more treatment.
  • The general anaesthetic may cause problems, but these are very rare. These include blood clots in a vein (deep vein thrombosis or DVT) or an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic. General anaesthetic is the medicine that puts you to sleep so that you don’t feel anything during surgery.
  • There is a small risk of dying during the surgery.

Speak to your surgeon or nurse about the risks of your type of surgery and how they will check for these and manage them.

Get support

Our specialist nurses can answer any of your questions or concerns about surgery, and put you in touch with a volunteer who has been in a similar situation through our Side by side telephone service.

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Published April 2019

Review date March 2021