Possible risks and complications

Your doctors will discuss the risks of you having surgery when you give your consent to go ahead with the operation. Surgery is complex and always comes with risks. Approximately one in ten people will have serious complications following pancreatic cancer surgery. There is always a small risk of death, this should be discussed with you and any questions you have answered.

Please note: Not all patients will have the following complications

Anastomotic leak

By far the most important complication following a Whipple’s procedure or other pancreatic surgery, is when one of the anastomoses (the join between either the bowel and the bile duct or pancreas) does not heal properly, allowing the contents to leak out. If a leak does occur, then you may need to stay in hospital longer than planned. These leaks usually dry up. Very rarely drains may need to be placed in the tummy and in exceptional circumstances, a second operation may be needed. You might have an x-ray to ensure the drain is put in the right place. Sometimes leaks heal on their own, but this takes time. Leaks from the pancreas can be serious as the pancreas releases digestive enzymes which can damage nearby tissue. 

Delayed emptying of the stomach

Sometimes your stomach may take longer to adapt to the changes after surgery and your food may not be able to pass through efficiently. You may need to stick to a liquid only diet for a while. Alternatively, you may need to be fed through a nasogastric tube (a feeding tube in the nose) until this resolves. 


Any operation carries a risk of bleeding after surgery. A radiological procedure to block the bleeding vessel without operating (embolisation) may be needed. In exceptional circumstances an operation may be needed to control the bleeding. 

Chest infections

It is possible you could develop a chest infection following an operation, especially if you are a smoker. To minimize your risk, a physiotherapist will visit you after your operation to help you to cough and breathe properly. 

Chyle leak

Some patients may leak a milky liquid called chyle into their abdominal drain after surgery. Chyle is a bodily fluid that can build up in the tummy following injury or surgery. This is treated by reducing the amount of food you eat for a period of time. Your dietitian or surgeon may feel that you should have artificial feeding during this period, such as a feeding tube, to support your nutrition intake. 

Problems with food absorption

When you have had part of your pancreas removed, you may notice your stools have become pale, loose and greasy. You can correct this by taking pancreatic enzyme capsules which, when taken with food, will help you digest it. Your medical team will tell you how and when to take these. 

For information please call 0303 040 1770 or e-mail healthinfo@panact.org

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Information Product № Published 16/10/2018
Last Updated 18/07/2024 Next Review Due 11/07/2027