Preparing for your surgery

This page explains what happens before surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Once you have decided to have surgery you will probably wait two to four 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 pancreatic cancer surgery?

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

Before the operation

Pre-op assessment

Before your surgery you will have a check-up at your hospital to make sure that you are fit enough for a general anaesthetic. The check-up usually happens one to three weeks before your operation and 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.

People with pancreatic cancer often lose a lot of weight, as the cancer affects how well they can digest food. You may need to start pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy before surgery to help with this. If you have lost weight you may need to put weight back on before you can have surgery – speak to your doctor or nurse about this. You should also be referred to a dietitian, who is an expert in diet and nutrition, including managing the diet problems of pancreatic cancer. 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 physical activity.

Read more about diet if you are having surgery

Diet and surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

Going into hospital

You will go into hospital either the day before or the morning of your operation. You will be told how long before surgery you must stop eating or drinking.

Your medical team will also tell you what to do about taking any regular medicines, especially medicine to thin your blood (such as warfarin and clopidogrel) or medicine for diabetes (such as metformin or insulin).

The operation

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.

Speak to our nurses
Specialist nurse Rachel

Published April 2019

Review date March 2021