Preparing for your pancreatic cancer operation

This page explains how you can prepare for surgery to remove pancreatic cancer. This includes tests you may have, and diet and physical activity to help you recover.

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?

Your surgery should be done at a specialist pancreatic cancer centre that has a specialist team to treat pancreatic cancer. This will include surgeons who are experienced in pancreatic surgery.

This means the surgery may not be at your local hospital. But other appointments, such as chemotherapy or check-ups after your surgery, 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 called a pre-op assessment. This is to make sure you are fit enough for surgery and a general anaesthetic. You will have a physical examination, blood tests, x-rays, and tests to check how well your heart and lungs are working.

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 your recovery.

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

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.

Try to be as active as possible. If you aren’t used to exercise, try setting yourself small targets, such as going up and down the stairs more each day.

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

Preparing for when you go home after the operation

It’s a good idea to think about what help you might need when you go home from the hospital. For example, you may need family or friends to help out with things like shopping. You could also freeze some meals before your operation, so that you don’t need to cook at first.

Most people manage well at home. If you don’t have anyone to help out, speak to your GP before your surgery about what support is available. Your nurse should also be able to ask social services to look at what help you will need. Read more about going home from hospital.

Going into hospital

You will go into hospital either the day before or on 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 for diabetes.

An operation to remove pancreatic cancer could take four to ten hours, depending on how complicated it is.

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

Updated January 2024

Review date January 2026