After bile duct cancer surgery, you will stay in the hospital for a few days. Full recovery typically takes several weeks.

Your doctor may recommend surgery to treat bile duct cancer if surgery may cure the cancer or remove enough of it to relieve some symptoms and improve your quality of life. Surgery to completely remove the cancer is possible in very few cases of bile duct cancer.

The type of surgery you have will depend on your cancer and the goal of the surgery. The procedure generally lasts 3–5 hours, and full recovery may take several weeks.

When you wake up from surgery, you may be in a postanesthesia care unit (PACU) or an intensive care unit (ICU). You will have various lines and tubes in your body. These will stay until you can safely get up, walk independently, and eat without complications.

You will probably stay in the PACU or ICU overnight or possibly longer. Eventually, you will move to a regular hospital room and stay there for 5–7 days, sometimes longer.

Not everyone reacts the same way to the medications they receive during surgery. You may wake up very slowly and be confused. Your nurses will remind you of what is happening and answer your questions.

You may also have other unpleasant sensations, such as nausea. Tell your nurses if you do.

When you first wake up from surgery, your pain may be lower due to anesthesia.

You may have several lines and tubes attached to different areas of your body:

  • One or more intravenous (IV) lines in your arms or neck give you medication, hydration, and nutrition. You may have these lines until you go home.
  • A patient-controlled-analgesia (PCA) line in either your arm or your back can allow you to control how much pain medication you receive. It will stay in until other types of pain medication are effective.
  • A catheter in your bladder to drain urine will stay in place until you can get up and use the bathroom, usually 1–2 days.
  • A tube in your nose pulls excess liquid out of your stomach to give your stomach and intestines time to heal. A nurse will usually remove it 1–2 days after surgery.
  • A tube in your surgical wound will drain excess bile. Your doctor may take it out a few days after surgery, or you may go home with it still in place.
  • Compression boots on your lower legs are meant to prevent blood clots and will stay on until you can walk independently.

You may feel discomfort when healthcare professionals remove any of these.

Depending on the surgery type, your surgeon may close your wound with stitches, staples, or a liquid bandage. In addition, they may cover the wound with a larger dressing.

These will stay in place until the wound is closed.

Your pain level will depend on the type of surgery and your pain tolerance.

You may have a PCA to control your pain at first. After that, a nurse may give you IV pain medication or oral medication.

You may not be allowed to eat for 1–2 days after surgery. After that, healthcare professionals will slowly increase your diet to make sure you do not have pain, nausea, or vomiting. Your “diet plan” will progress like this:

  1. no food for several hours
  2. ice chips or sips of water
  3. liquids
  4. soft foods
  5. regular diet

Each time your diet advances, a healthcare professional will watch you closely to make sure you tolerate the new foods.

Nurses will try to get you up as soon as possible after surgery, sometimes within a few hours.

At first, you will get up only with assistance. Then, as you gain strength, you will be able to walk independently.

You will probably stay in the hospital for about a week. Your doctor will usually allow you to go home when you can:

  • take oral pain medication
  • eat solid foods
  • walk independently
  • pass urine and bowel movements

When your doctor says you can go home, your nurse will give you instructions about wound care, diet, and exercise, among other things.

Physical activity

Walk frequently and do light activities at first. Add more strenuous activities only once cleared by your doctor.


Your nurse will give you instructions about your diet. Call your doctor if you develop:

Wound care

Your nurse will give you instructions about caring for your wound. Sometimes, a wound care nurse may come to your home to help you change the dressing and care for the wound and any other drains or tubes that were in place when you left the hospital.

You will schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor for 10–14 days after you go home.

Recovering from bile duct cancer surgery may be a long journey. Speak with your medical team about any concerns or questions you have before surgery. And make sure you understand all of your discharge instructions before you leave the hospital, especially if you are going home with lines or tubes.

How long does it take to recover from bile duct surgery?

You will recover in the hospital for 5–7 days. Recovery at home may take several weeks.

What is the prognosis after bile duct cancer surgery?

The outlook for bile duct cancer surgery depends on the intent and success of the surgery.

If the surgeon can remove all the cancer, the outlook is generally better. In some cases, your surgeon may not be able to remove all the cancer. In this situation, you should speak with your doctor about your outlook and further treatment options.

If the goal of your surgery is to relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life, the outlook will depend on the stage of your cancer, your overall health, and further treatment options available to you.

Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove cancer from your bile duct if it will cure your cancer or relieve pain or other symptoms. The type of surgery and the outlook will depend on the cancer and the goal of the surgery.

You may be hospitalized for a week or longer and go home with a dressing or drains.