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Surgery to relieve symptoms

Surgery can help relieve symptoms of pancreatic cancer including jaundice and a blockage in the bowel.

Relieving jaundice

A blockage in your bile duct causes jaundice.

The symptoms of this are:

  • sickness (nausea)
  • weakness and lack of energy
  • itchy skin
  • digestive discomfort and wind
  • yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes

If you are not able to have surgery to remove your cancer, your doctor might suggest you have a tube put in to hold the bile duct open. This tube is called a stent. You don't usually need an operation to have a stent put in. A specialist doctor can put it in during an endoscopy or through the skin guided by x-ray.

You might have an operation to allow bile to drain by bypassing your blocked bile duct if you can't have a stent or it hasn't worked.

Your surgeon cuts the bile duct above the blockage and reconnects it to the small bowel. This operation is called a choledochojejunostomy.

This is nearly always successful in relieving jaundice. It is abdominal surgery, so can take quite a bit of getting over. But it can make a difference to your quality of life.

Relieving a blocked bowel

If your small bowel (duodenum) becomes partly or completely blocked by the cancer it can make you very sick. Any food or drink you swallow can't pass through to the bowel in the normal way. It collects in your stomach and you need to vomit it back up again. This type of vomiting can be quite forceful, but you feel relief afterwards for a while.

You might have a stent (tube) put into the duodenum to keep it open. In some cases it may be possible to operate to bypass the blockage.

The surgeon attaches the part of your small bowel that is below the duodenum directly to your stomach. This allows digested food to pass through to the bowel.

This operation will not cure your cancer but may enable you to live a fuller life for longer. You will need to talk  to your surgeon about what the surgery could achieve for you and about how your recovery will be.

Last reviewed: 
07 Nov 2019
  • Guidelines for the management of patients with pancreatic cancer, periampullary and ampullary carcinomas
    British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2005

  • Cancer of the Pancreas: European Society Medical Oncology Clinical Practice Guidelines
    M Ducreux and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2015, 26 (suppl 5): v56-v68

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