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Which surgery for pancreatic cancer?

Men and women discussing pancreatic cancer

This page has basic information on operations for cancer of the pancreas. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Which surgery for pancreatic cancer?

Your surgeon will look at all your test results to decide whether it is possible to remove your pancreatic tumour. Your scans may show the size and position of the tumour. A tumour that is less than 3cm across is most likely to be removable.

Removing the tumour completely

If it is possible to remove your cancer, your surgeon may suggest a Kausch Whipple operation (usually called a Whipple's operation). This means removing part of your pancreas, the duodenum, part of the stomach and your gallbladder. Or your surgeon may suggest other operations to remove part or all of your pancreas.

Operation to relieve symptoms

You may have an operation to relieve symptoms such as jaundice or sickness caused by a blockage. Jaundice happens when the bile duct is blocked. It is not unusual for pancreatic cancer to block the bile duct by pressing on it or growing over it. Sickness can be caused by cancer blocking the duodenum. This blockage stops food passing from the stomach into the bowel. 

Your surgeon may do an operation to bypass the blockage. However instead of surgery, you are now more likely to have a tube (stent) put in to keep your bile duct or duodenum open.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating pancreatic cancer section.

 

 

Removing pancreatic cancer completely

To find out if it may be possible to remove the cancer, your surgeon will look at

  • The size of the tumour
  • Where it is in the pancreas
  • Whether the cancer has grown into the tissues around the pancreas
  • Whether the cancer is in any of the lymph nodes around the pancreas
  • Whether the cancer has grown into the major blood vessels in or around the pancreas
  • Whether the cancer has spread to any other parts of the body

Your surgeon can find the answers to some of these questions from looking at the results of tests you have had. Your scans may show the size and position of the tumour. A tumour that is less than 3cm across is most likely to be removable. Cancers in the head of the pancreas are often easier to remove than cancers in the body or tail of the pancreas. This is because they tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage.

Scans may also show up cancer spread to other parts of the body. But it may be necessary for your surgeon to try the operation without knowing exactly whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or invaded blood vessels.

If it is possible to remove your cancer your surgeon may suggest a

A Kausch Whipple operation means removing part of your pancreas, the duodenum, part of the stomach and your gallbladder. There is a variation called a pylorus preserving Kausch Whipple operation. This is the same except the surgeon does not remove any of your stomach. There is more about all these operations in the page about surgery to try to cure pancreatic cancer.

 

Relieving symptoms of pancreatic cancer

In some cases, you may have an operation to relieve symptoms of pancreatic cancer such as jaundice and sickness caused by a blockage. Jaundice happens when the bile duct is blocked. The opening of the bile duct is right next to the opening of the pancreatic duct. So it is not unusual for pancreatic cancer to block the bile duct by pressing on it or growing over it.

If the cancer is blocking the very top of your small bowel (duodenum), you may be very sick. This is because the blockage stops food passing from the stomach into the bowel. Your surgeon may do an operation to bypass any blockages. There is more information about this in the page about surgery to relieve symptoms.

Instead of having surgery, you are now more likely to have a tube (stent) put in to keep the bile duct or duodenum open to help relieve symptoms. There is more information about stents to relieve symptoms in this section.

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Updated: 7 June 2014