Pancreas Surgery

Smilow Cancer Hospital is a regional referral center for patients in need of surgery for pancreatic cancer. Several operative procedures exist and the choice of surgery is tailored to the individual patient after reviewing the details of the tumor. The Whipple procedure is the most frequent operation and is used for tumors in the pancreatic head. Distal pancreatectomy, often done laparoscopically, is used for tumors of the pancreatic body and tail, and rarely, there is a need for a total pancreatectomy. Our surgeons, members of the Yale Surgical Oncology Program have in excess of 30 years of experience in pancreatic surgery and are the highest volume center for pancreatic surgery in Connecticut, performing approximately 100 pancreatic resections each year. Current operative techniques and careful attention to the postoperative management in and outside of the hospital optimizes the opportunity for our patient’s complete recovery.

Types of Pancreas Cancer Surgery

There are several types of surgery for pancreatic cancer. The type of surgery you need depends on the location of the tumor in your pancreas, and whether your doctor can remove all of the cancer. Following are the main types of surgery.

This surgery is the most common for completely removing tumors from the pancreas. The surgeon removes:

  • The head of the pancreas, which is the wide end
  • Lymph nodes near the bile duct
  • Duodenum, which is part of the small intestine
  • Part of the stomach
  • In some cases, the body of the pancreas, which is the middle section
  • The gallbladder and part of the common bile duct

After this surgery, bile from your liver, food from your stomach, and digestive juices from the remaining part of your pancreas all enter your small intestine, so you can have normal digestion.

This surgery is similar to the Whipple procedure. However, your surgeon does not remove the lower part of your stomach.

Pylorus-preserving pancreaticoduodenectomy: Anatomy of the resected area (a) and reconnected digestive tract with end-to-end pancreaticojejunostomy (b).

Surgeons perform this less often than they perform the Whipple procedure. Your surgeon removes your:

  • Entire pancreas
  • Distal common bile duct
  • Duodenum, which is part of your small intestine
  • Part of your stomach
  • Spleen
  • Gallbladder, if you still have one

Once your surgeon removes your entire pancreas, you won’t be able to make pancreatic juices or insulin. You will need to test your blood glucose levels, give yourself insulin injections, and take other steps to keep your blood glucose levels normal. You will also need to take pancreatic enzyme pills with food to aid in digestion.

Your surgeon will sometimes perform this surgery if your cancer is confined to the tail of your pancreas. For this surgery, your surgeon removes only the tail of your pancreas, which is the thin part, and perhaps part of its body, the middle section. The surgeon also usually removes your spleen.

Your doctor may suggest surgery and other procedures to ease or prevent symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer, but these surgeries are not intended to cure the disease. These procedures may help restore your bile flow, allow food to leave your stomach into your small intestine, or ease pain. For instance, surgery may relieve a blocked bile duct by bypassing it. Surgery may also relieve a blockage at the outlet of the stomach to the first part of the small intestine (called the duodenum) by bypassing it. This is called bowel-bypass surgery. It doesn’t cure the disease. These are some of the types of palliative surgery:

  • Surgery to redirect the flow of bile directly into your small intestine
  • Surgery to allow your stomach to empty into another portion of your small intestine
  • Injections to block or numb nerves near your pancreas
  • Placing a stent (a small tube) inside the bile duct or duodenum to help keep it open
Animation - Acute Pancreatitis

Animation - Acute Pancreatitis

This animation describes the causes, symptoms, and factors in the development of acute pancreatitis, as well as tools and tests used to diagnose the disease.