Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer

Rachel Hadden is a Hepatobiliary Nurse in the Belfast Trust


We asked Rachel to share her advice for patients facing surgery for pancreatic cancer.



Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer is complicated and major surgery. However, if you are suitable for surgery it is the most effective treatment and will help you live longer. The fitter you are for surgery, the better it will be.


You may be suitable for the pre-hepatobilitation programme where you will meet the surgeon, the anaesthetist, the dietician, physiotherapist and the clinical nurse specialists. The aim of this is to optimise you and prepare you for surgery. It is also to make your recovery less complicated, help your wounds heal quickly, prevent your risk of infection and to promote your recovery.


Before coming for surgery, you will need to try to eat as well as you can. With pancreatic surgery you will lose a lot of weight. We recommend a normal diet – there’s no foods that you have to avoid. So, eat what you fancy and what you can tolerate.


If you exercise, we recommend that you continue to do this. If you didn’t exercise before, try to move around a bit, go out for short walks. Build this up, set yourself a target, and try to increase it every couple of days


If you smoke try to stop this before coming into hospital. If you drink alcohol, try to reduce this


At your appointments, you will be given a lot of literature. Take this home, read it, talk it over with family and if you have any concerns or queries please give the clinical nurse specialists a telephone call. We will give you our contact details at your appointment


Recovery from pancreatic surgery takes time. When you first come home from the hospital you will feel very weak. Some people feel fully recovered in 2 months’ time, but with other people it may take 6 months, even up to a year – each individual patient is different. We recommend that you take things easy. However, we do expect you to be up and about during the day. Try to set a time, say lunchtime or early afternoon, when you lie down on top of your bed and have a rest, even if you aren’t able to sleep.


In the first 2 weeks coming home from hospital you will need help from family and friends with shopping, cooking, and housework. As time goes on you will be able to gradually increase what you can do. Move around your home in the first couple of weeks then try to build this up. Go out for a walk – try to increase this every couple of weeks


In the first couple of weeks following surgery appetite may not be great. You will not be able to eat the same size of portions as you did before you had your operation. This is normal. We recommend that you eat small amounts frequently, grazing and snacking during the day. You may have to go on to pancreatic enzymes - don’t worry your dietician and your nurse specialist will chat this over with you. There are no special diets to follow and we don’t tell you to avoid any food.


If at home you become worried about anything, like your wound or your pain, nausea, vomiting, bowels. phone the nurse specialists.


For more information on Pancreatic Cancer, click HERE

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