Preparing for your operation

Once you have decided to have surgery to treat your pancreatic cancer, you may have to wait a few weeks for the operation. This will depend on many things, including how well you are, if you need further tests, and when the surgeon can do your operation.

Where will I have surgery?

In the UK, surgery should only be carried out in specialist centres where there is a specialist team to treat pancreatic cancer. This means the surgeons are experienced in pancreatic surgery and usually do at least 12 of these operations a year. Your surgeon should be able to tell you how many operations they have done.

This means the surgery may not be at the local hospital. But other appointments, such as chemotherapy or check-ups, might be at a hospital that’s closer to you.

Before the operation

Pre-op assessment

Before your surgery you will have a check-up at the hospital to make sure that you are fit enough for surgery and a general anaesthetic. This is called a pre-op assessment. It may include blood tests, x-rays and tests to check how well your heart and lungs are working, and a physical examination.

Diet and physical activity before surgery

The fitter you are before surgery the better. Try to eat as well as possible in the weeks before your operation and be as active as you can. This will help you recover from surgery.

Pancreatic cancer may affect how well you can digest food. If you have lost weight, you may need to put weight back on before surgery. Speak to your medical team about pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy to help with this. They may also suggest foods or nutritional supplements to help you put on weight.

You may be referred to a dietitian, who is an expert in diet and nutrition. They can help you manage any digestion problems before surgery. If you haven’t seen a dietitian, ask your doctor about this.

If you exercise regularly you should carry on with this. If you don’t usually exercise, try to move about as much as possible. Try setting yourself small targets each day, such as increasing the number of times you go up and down the stairs.

Read more about diet if you are having surgery

Read more about diet and physical activity in our booklet: Diet and pancreatic cancer.

Order a free copy

Going into hospital

You will go into hospital either the day before or the morning of your operation.

Your medical team will tell you when you need to stop eating or drinking before your surgery. They will also tell you what to do about taking any regular medicines, especially medicine to thin your blood or medicine for diabetes.

Most operations to remove pancreatic cancer take four to seven hours, though some may take longer.

Questions about surgery?

If you have any questions about preparing for surgery, or what surgery involves, speak to your surgeon or nurse.

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

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Specialist nurse Rachel

Published November 2021

Review date November 2023