Whipple Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer

Surgery Overview

The Whipple procedure is an operation to remove a pancreatic tumor and a lot of the tissue around it.

Before your surgery, you may also have a laparoscopy so the doctor can look at the pancreas and other organs in the area. This is done to see if the cancer has spread. Tissue samples may be taken for a biopsy.

If the tumor hasn't spread, and the whole tumor can be removed, the surgeon will take out the part of the pancreas containing the tumor during the Whipple surgery. Part of the small intestine and other nearby tissues will be removed. The surgeon may also remove part of the stomach.

The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor and some of the normal tissue around it. The normal tissue is examined under a microscope to see if it is free of cancer cells. This is known as getting "clear margins." Having clear margins improves the chances—but doesn't guarantee—that all cancer cells have been removed.

The second part of the surgery involves sewing your digestive tract back together.

Sometimes the Whipple procedure can be done with laparoscopic surgery. This uses several small incisions instead of one large one. If so, it may be done with robotic assistance.

What To Expect

The Whipple procedure requires general anesthesia and a hospital stay of 1 to 2 weeks.

Unless you had laparoscopic surgery, you will have a large scar on your belly. It's normal to feel pain in the area for the first week or so. You'll get medicines to control the pain.

You will probably be able to return to work or your normal routine in about 1 month. It will probably take about 3 months until your strength is back to normal.

After surgery, you may need more treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy, that can help you live longer.

The pancreas makes insulin and digestive enzymes that your body needs to digest food properly. After part or all of your pancreas is removed, you may need to take medicine to regulate your blood sugar. You may also need enzyme supplements to help your body digest food.

It's important to get follow-up care. Your doctor will set up a schedule of checkups and tests.

Why It Is Done

The Whipple procedure is done to try to remove cancer from the pancreas.

How Well It Works

When all of the cancer is removed during a Whipple surgery, it can help a person live longer. Even when this surgery is successful, the cancer often eventually comes back.

Risks

The Whipple procedure is a complex surgery. Some risks of this surgery include:

  • Trouble with the stomach emptying after eating.
  • Leaking at the connections the surgeon makes.
  • Infection or bleeding.

Credits

Current as of: December 17, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine