Before your operation for pancreatic cancer
Before surgery, you have tests to check your fitness and you meet members of your treatment team. You might go into hospital on the morning of your operation or the day before.
The length of your hospital stay depends on what operation you have. You are usually in hospital for around 10 to 14 days after surgery. Some hospitals have an enhanced recovery programme where they aim to have most people home within 7 days of surgery.
Tests to check you are fit for surgery
You have tests before your operation to check:
- your fitness for an anaesthetic, if you need one
- that you’ll make a good recovery from surgery
You might have some or all of the following tests:
- blood tests to check your general health and how well your kidneys are working
- a swab test to rule out some infections
- an ECG to check that your heart is healthy
- breathing tests (called lung function tests)
- an echocardiogram (a painless test of your heart using sound waves)
- a chest x-ray to check that your lungs are healthy
You might not need all of these tests if you had them when you were diagnosed.
Tumour markers are substances that might be raised if there is a cancer. They’re usually proteins. They can be found in the blood, urine or body tissues.
Some tumour markers are only produced by one type of cancer. Others can be made by several types. Some markers are found in non cancerous conditions as well as cancer.
Doctors might use tumour markers to monitor how well your cancer treatment is working or check if the cancer has come back.
If you have pancreatic cancer your doctor might test for cancer antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA).
Removing the spleen
If you are having your
If you have been finding it difficult to digest fats, you may have low levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K helps the blood to clot, so your vitamin K levels might need to be corrected before your surgery. This can be done by taking vitamin K tablets, having injections, or through a drip into your bloodstream.
Pre assessment clinic
Your pre assessment clinic appointment prepares you for your operation. You have it about a week or so before surgery.
You meet members of your treatment team at this appointment. You might also sign the consent form to agree to the operation.
Your doctor or nurse might talk to you about the Enhanced Recovery Programme at your hospital. This is a programme of care that helps people recover more quickly after a big operation.
Ask lots of questions during your appointment. It helps to write down all your questions beforehand to take with you. The more you know about what is going to happen, the less frightening it will seem.
You can ask more questions when you go into hospital. So don’t worry if you forget to ask, or think of more questions when you get home.
Who you might meet before your operation
Nurse or healthcare assistant
At the pre assessment clinic a nurse or health care assistant checks your:
- general health
- blood pressure
The nurse asks you questions to check your fitness for the operation. They can organise any further tests you might need. They ask about any medicines you are taking (such as blood thinners), and if you have diabetes or other medical conditions. They give you information about what to expect when you come into hospital for the operation.
You may see a nurse who specialises in surgery of the bile ducts, liver and pancreas. They can help answer any questions you have about the operation.
You may also see your specialist cancer nurse. They can check what help and support you have to see what you will need when you go home. They are usually your main point of contact, and care for you after your operation for the rest of your treatment.
The anaesthetist gives you the general anaesthetic and looks after you during the operation. They make sure you’re fit enough for the surgery.
A member of the surgical team will tell you about:
- the operation you are going to have
- the benefits of having surgery
- the possible risks
- what to expect afterwards
The dietitian gives you help and advice about managing your diet. They:
- help you get as well as possible before your operation
- explain how the surgery affects your diet
- give useful tips on how to increase your nutrients and calories
They can also advise about managing diabetes and the enzyme supplements you might need to take after the operation.
They might give you nutritional supplement drinks to have before surgery.
The physiotherapist assesses how well you can move around. They let the doctors know if there is anything that could affect your recovery.
The physios or nurses also teach you leg and breathing exercises to do after your operation to help with recovery. Learning how to do the exercises beforehand makes it easier afterwards.
Learning breathing and leg exercises
Breathing exercises help to stop you from getting a chest infection after surgery. If you smoke, it helps if you can stop at least a few weeks before your operation.
Leg exercises help to stop blood clots forming in your legs. You might also have medicines to stop the blood from clotting. You have them as small injections under the skin.
You start the injections after your operation. You might also wear compression stockings and pumps on your calves or feet to help the circulation.
Your nurse and physiotherapist will get you up out of bed quite quickly after your surgery. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots forming.
This 3-minute video shows you how to do the breathing and leg exercises.
Breathing and circulation exercises after surgery
These exercises help prevent you developing a chest infection or blood clots in your legs after surgery. These problems are more likely when you are not moving around as you would normally.
You can do these breathing exercises while sitting up in a chair or in a bed or whilst lying down.
Relax your shoulders and upper chest.
Take a slow, deep, comfortable breath in and hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly breathe out.
Repeat this 3 times.
You can start these breathing exercises as soon as you come round from your anaesthetic.
You should try to do them every hour when awake until you are fully mobile.
If you need to cough, support your wound with your arms, a pillow or a rolled up towel.
If you are struggling to clear any phlegm, try a huff. This is where you breathe out in a short, sharp manner as if you were trying to steam up a mirror.
You should move about as soon as possible after your operation. But while you are not as mobile, try to keep your legs moving to encourage better circulation.
You can do these exercises in a bed or in a chair.
One foot at a time point your toes away from you then pull your toes towards your chin.
Try to do 10 of these on both feet at least 2-3 times an hour.
The next exercise is circling your ankles. One at time circle your ankles, clockwise and then anticlockwise. Repeat this 10 times with each ankle 2-3 times an hour.
What to take with you
- nightgowns or pyjamas
- dressing gown
- contact lenses, solution, glasses and a case
- wash bag with soap, a flannel or sponge, toothbrush and toothpaste etc
- sanitary wear or tampons
- small amount of money
- medicines you normally take
- magazines, books, playing cards
- headphones and music to listen to
- a tablet or smartphone for web browsing, entertainment and phone calls
- chargers for electronic devices
- a copy of your last clinic letter
Family and friends
Before you go into hospital, it might be worth checking:
- whether the ward is allowing visitors
- if they have set visiting times
- the best number for friends and family to phone, to find out how you are
The letter you receive before your operation may contain this information. But if not, you can phone the ward or hospital reception to find out.
You can use your mobile phone in hospital. But there may be some time before and after your operation when you won’t have your mobile nearby. And you may not feel like talking.
Before you go into hospital
It’s worth sorting out a few things before you go into hospital. These might include:
- taking time off work
- care for children or other loved ones
- care for your pets
- care for your house
- cancelling your milk or newspapers