Recovering From Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer

Your hospital stay will depend on the type of surgery you had. Recovery after you leave the hospital may continue for one month or more. Here is an overview of how you may feel after surgery:

  • For the first few days, you’re likely to have pain from the cuts, called the incisions. You can control your pain with medicine, which your doctor will prescribe. You may have an epidural catheter inserted into your lower back so that it’s easier to give you pain medication. You may have a patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA). This is an intravenous form of pain medication that you control by pressing a button.  Pain medicine will be transitioned from the epidural or PCA pump to oral medications before you leave the hospital. Talk with your doctor or nurse about your options for pain relief. Some people are hesitant to take pain medication, but doing so can actually help your healing. If your pain is not controlled well, for example, you may not want to cough or turn over often, which you need to do while you recover from surgery.

  • Your doctor may place a small drain or drains in your lower abdomen (belly) during surgery. You may go home with one or more drains still in place.

  • You may feel tired or weak for a while. The amount of time it takes to recover from an operation is different for each person.

  • You may have constipation from using pain medicine, from not moving around, or from not eating or drinking very much. Talk with your doctor or nurse about how to keep your bowels moving.

  • If your surgeon removed your entire pancreas, you no longer make enough insulin to get glucose into your cells, where they can be used for energy. The removal of your pancreas causes diabetes. You will need to learn how to test your blood for glucose (sugar) and to give yourself insulin shots. The diabetes educator at the hospital will help you to manage your diabetes. He or she will give you information about other steps you need to take to keep your blood glucose levels within a normal range.

  • If your surgeon removed your pancreas, or it can no longer make enzymes, you may need to take digestive enzyme tablets to help you digest food.

You will also need follow-up care after surgery. You will need to make an appointment with your surgeon and get any other information for home care and follow-up when you leave the hospital.