What to expect after surgery
While you are recovering after surgery, your health care team will check your progress and help you with the following:
You will have some pain and discomfort for several days after surgery. You will be given pain medicines to manage this. If you are in pain when you return home, talk to your doctors about a prescription for pain medicine.
You may have a thin tube placed in the abdomen to drain fluid into a small bag or bottle. The fluid can then be checked for potential problems. The tube is usually removed after a few days but may be left in for longer. Surgical drains are never permanent.
Drips and tubes
While in hospital, you will have a drip to replace your body’s fluids. At first, you may not be able to eat or drink (nil by mouth). You’ll then be on a liquid diet before slowly returning to normal food. A temporary feeding tube may be put into the small bowel during the operation. This tube provides extra nutrition until you can eat and drink normally again. The hospital dietitian can help you manage changes to eating.
Some people will need to take tablets known as pancreatic enzymes after surgery. These are taken with each meal to help digest fat and protein.
Because the pancreas produces insulin, people who have had all or some of their pancreas removed may develop diabetes after surgery and need regular insulin injections (up to four times per day). A specialist doctor called an endocrinologist will help you develop a plan for managing diabetes. Learn some tips for coping with diabetes.
Your health care team will probably encourage you to walk the day after surgery. They will also provide advice about when you can get back to your usual activity levels.
Length of hospital stay
Most people go home within two weeks, but if there are problems, you may need to stay in hospital longer. You may need rehabilitation to help you regain physical strength. This may be as an inpatient in a rehabilitation centre or through a home-based rehabilitation program.
Podcast: Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis
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.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment