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Whipple procedure

The Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy) is a complex operation to remove part of the pancreas, part of the small intestine and the gallbladder.

The Whipple procedure is most often used to treat pancreatic cancer that’s confined to the head of the pancreas. But it may also be used to treat tumors and other abnormalities of the pancreas, small intestine and bile duct.

After performing the Whipple procedure, surgeons work to reattach the remaining portions of the digestive system so that your body can digest the food that you eat and you can expel waste normally.

The Whipple procedure is a difficult and demanding operation for both the person undergoing surgery and the surgeon.

The Whipple procedure can take several hours to perform and requires great surgical skill and experience. The area around the pancreas is complex and surgeons often encounter patients who have a variation in the arrangement of blood vessels and ducts.

After the Whipple procedure was introduced, many surgeons were reluctant to perform it because it had a high death rate. As recently as the 1970s, up to 25% of patients either died during the surgery or shortly thereafter.

Since then, improvements in diagnosis, staging, surgical techniques, anesthesia, and postoperative care have reduced the short-term death rate to less than 4% in patients whose operation is performed at cancer centers by experienced surgeons. At some major centers, the reported death rate is less than 1%. But the rate may still be above 15% in patients who are treated at small hospitals or by less experienced surgeons.

Because the Whipple procedure continues to be one of the most demanding and risky operations for surgeons and patients, the American Cancer Society says it’s best to have the procedure done at a hospital that performs at least 15 to 20 pancreas surgeries per year. The organization also recommends choosing a surgeon who does many such operations.


 

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