Check-ups after surgery

You will continue to have appointments with your medical team after your operation to remove pancreatic cancer. These are called check-ups and follow-up. This page explains these.

Check-up after your operation

Your surgeon will aim to take out all the cancer during surgery. They will also take out some of the normal tissue around the cancer. This is called the surgical margin. The aim is to make sure that all the cancer has been removed.

A doctor called a pathologist will look at the tissue that was removed during surgery. They will check whether there are any cancer cells in the surrounding area or lymph nodes. Your surgical margins will be either negative or positive.

  • Clear or negative: there are no cancer cells in the outer edge of the tissue that was removed.
  • Positive or involved: not all the cancer cells were removed and there may be some cells at the edge of the tissue that was removed.

You will have an appointment a few weeks after you leave hospital to get these results. You can also talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you might be having at this appointment.

You may be offered chemotherapy once you have recovered from the surgery.

Longer term checks-ups (follow-up)

You will have longer term check-ups (also called follow-up) after your operation. For these you may have blood tests and a scan.

You may have appointments with your surgical team, and/or the oncologist if you have chemotherapy. After the first few appointments, your follow-up may be at your local hospital.

Each hospital will do things slightly differently. If you haven’t been told about follow-up appointments, ask your medical team about these.

  • For the first two years after surgery, you may have an appointment every three to six months.
  • After two years you may have an appointment every six months, or yearly. You may have these over the telephone. This will vary between hospitals.
  • After five years your check-ups are either done by the hospital or your GP.

You may also have appointments for support with your digestion, taking pancreatic enzymes or any other medicines. These appointments may be with other health professionals, such as a dietitian.

The check-ups are a chance for you to ask any questions you have. If you have any problems you can ask for an appointment earlier. You can also contact your nurse for advice. If you get any new symptoms, contact your medical team – they should check what is causing them.

If your check-ups find any signs that the cancer has come back, you may be offered more treatment with chemotherapy.

Watch our video on check-ups after surgery

Specialist nurse, Lisa, explains check-ups after surgery for pancreatic cancer, and what happens at these appointments.

Questions to ask your doctor or nurse

How often will I have check-ups after my surgery?

What tests will I have to check the cancer hasn’t come back?

Who should I call if I have any problems?

Chemotherapy after surgery

You should be offered chemotherapy after surgery to try to reduce the chances of the cancer coming back.

You should be given time to recover from surgery before starting chemotherapy. This is because you need to be well enough for around six months of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may begin up to 12 weeks after your surgery.

If you are having any problems with digestion, speak to your doctor, nurse or dietitian. They can make sure this doesn’t delay the chemotherapy.

Questions following surgery?

If you have any questions or worries after pancreatic surgery, speak to your doctor or nurse.

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

Speak to our nurses
A specialist nurse taking a phone call.

Published November 2021

Review date November 2023