What is Pancreatectomy?

Pancreatectomy is surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas to treat pancreatitis, tumors, or cancer. The pancreas is located behind the stomach and near the small intestine and spleen. There are three sections of the pancreas:

  • The head, which is the portion closest to the intestines
  • The body, which is the middle portion of the pancreas
  • The tail, which is the portion nearest the spleen

Pancreas removal procedures differ based on how much of the pancreas and surrounding organs are removed. There are three types of pancreatectomy:

  • Distal pancreatectomy removes the tail and body of the pancreas. This procedure treats tumors confined to these areas.
  • Pancreaticoduodenectomy, or the Whipple procedure, removes the pancreas, duodenum, bile duct, and, sometimes, part of the stomach. The Whipple procedure is used for pancreatic tumors that have not spread past the head of the pancreas and for other conditions affecting the pancreas, duodenum, and bile duct.
  • Total pancreatectomy removes the whole pancreas along with the duodenum, gallbladder, parts of the stomach and bile duct, surrounding lymph nodes, and, potentially, the spleen. Rarely performed, total pancreatectomy treats conditions that involve the entire pancreas, such as tumors found in multiple sites on the pancreas, or for rare tumors such as intraductal papillary mucinous neoplasms (IPMN).

Pancreatectomy can be done by open or minimally invasive surgery. During a laparoscopic pancreatectomy, your surgeon will use tiny incisions to insert a thin tube with a camera, or laparoscope, into your abdomen. Open surgery, or a laparotomy, is performed through a larger incision on your abdomen. If additional organs are removed, some procedures may require that the small intestine be reconnected to the stomach.

Your hospital stay may be between 1-3 weeks. Generally, laparoscopic surgeries require shorter recovery periods. Whether you undergo an open or laparoscopic procedure is determined by factors such as your condition and the extent of your procedure. For example, open surgery tends to be more common for distal pancreatectomies. If you have difficulty eating, you may require a nasogastric tube, inserted through your nose, to carry food to your stomach. A catheter can be inserted into your bladder if you have trouble urinating. Full recovery may take about two months.