Surgery to relieve symptoms
If the tumour is pressing on the common bile duct, it can cause a blockage and prevent bile from passing into the bowel. Bile builds up in the blood, causing symptoms of jaundice, such as yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; itchy skin; reduced appetite, poor digestion and weight loss; dark urine; and pale stools. If cancer blocks the duodenum (first part of the small bowel), food cannot pass into the bowel and builds up in your stomach, causing nausea and vomiting.
Blockages of the common bile duct or duodenum are known as obstructions. Surgical options for managing these may include:
- stenting – inserting a small tube into the bile duct or duodenum (this is the most common method)
- bypass surgery – connecting the small bowel to the bile duct or gall bladder to redirect the bile around the blockage, and connecting a part of the bowel to the stomach to bypass the duodenum so the stomach can empty properly
- gastroenterostomy – connecting the stomach to the jejunum (middle section of the small bowel)
- venting gastrostomy – connecting the stomach to an opening on the abdomen so waste can be collected in a small bag outside the body.
Sometimes the surgeon may have planned to remove a pancreatic tumour but discovers during the surgery that the cancer has spread. If the tumour cannot be removed, the surgeon may perform one of the operations listed above to relieve symptoms.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery.
Podcast: Treatment Options for Advanced Cancer
Dr Benjamin Loveday, Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) Surgeon, Royal Melbourne Hospital and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Katherine Allsopp, Palliative Medicine Physician, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Hollie Bevans, Senior Dietitian, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Western Health, VIC; Dr Lorraine Chantrill, Head of Department Medical Oncology, Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District, NSW; Amanda Maxwell, Consumer; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper GI Oncology Service, Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and University of Melbourne, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Meg Rogers, Nurse Consultant Upper GI/NET Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Ady Sipthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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