After your operation
Recovering from pancreatic cancer surgery takes time and you will probably feel very weak after your operation. It may take several months to a year to fully recover. This will be different for each person.
What's in the 'Surgery for pancreatic cancer' section?
- Surgery for pancreatic cancer
- Who can have surgery for pancreatic cancer?
- Types of surgery for pancreatic cancer
- How is surgery for pancreatic cancer carried out?
- Preparing for your pancreatic cancer operation
- After your operation
- Side effects of surgery
- Going home from hospital
- Check-ups after surgery
When you wake up after surgery
You will be in the intensive care unit (ICU) or high dependency unit (HDU) for the first 24–48 hours. This is so that the nurses can monitor you closely.
Once the doctors are happy with how you are recovering, you will be moved to a ward. You may spend one to two weeks in hospital, or longer if needed.
Some hospitals have enhanced recovery programmes which aim to get you eating, drinking and moving about as soon as possible after surgery. The medical team will help you to sit out of bed and slowly get moving as soon as you are able to. Ask your medical team if they have an enhanced recovery programme.
Eating and drinking after surgery
For the first few hours after surgery you won’t be able to eat or drink anything. You will slowly start to drink and eat normally again, starting with drinks and then softer foods. Once you can manage this, you can slowly have more normal food.
Your stomach may not empty normally for the first few days after the operation. If you have problems eating, you may need to be fed through a tube until your stomach works normally again. The tube may go up your nose or through a small hole in your tummy. Not all hospitals use feeding tubes.
If you have a leak where the pancreas is joined to the small intestine, you may have food into a vein (intravenously) for a few days.
You may see a dietitian after your surgery. They can give you advice on what to eat and how to maintain or put on weight. If you don’t have a dietitian your nurse can help you with this. There are no foods that you should totally avoid. You may need to eat smaller portions, and need more calories and protein to help you put on weight and recover.
After surgery, most people need to take pancreatic enzyme capsules to help them digest food. A dietitian or your nurse can help with this.
Going to the toilet
A thin tube called a catheter will be put into your bladder to drain your urine during the operation, and for a few days afterwards.
Your bowels won’t start working normally for a few days. When they do you may have diarrhoea (runny poo) or constipation (when you find it harder to poo). This should soon settle down. You may also get constipation if you take painkillers called opioids.
Your poo may also be pale, oily, smelly, and hard to flush down the toilet. This is because the pancreas can’t produce enough enzymes to digest the fat in your food. You should be given pancreatic enzyme capsules to help with this.
Your wound will be closed with stitches or surgical staples. These will be removed about 10–14 days after your operation. This may be done at hospital or at your GP surgery. The area around your wound may be sore or numb for a few weeks or longer – this is normal.
You may have a thin tube called a drain in your wound at first. This is put in during the operation to drain fluid from the area. It is usually removed after a few days.
There is a risk that your wound could become infected. If this happens, it may look swollen or red around the edges, or may ooze a smelly liquid (pus). If you think it’s infected, tell your GP or specialist nurse.
Updated January 2024
Review date January 2026