Surgery to remove pancreatic cancer

Doctors and nurses in surgery

Whipple's Procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy)

The surgeon will remove the head of the pancreas, the lower end of the stomach, part of your small bowel, some of the bile duct, your gallbladder and surrounding lymph nodes. The remaining pancreas, bile duct and stomach are joined up to the small intestines. This allows the pancreatic enzymes, bile and stomach contents to flow into the small intestine for normal digestion.

This surgery may be possible if the cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas and does not involve major blood vessels.

Whipple pancreas

Pylorus preserving pancreaticoduodenectomy (PPPD)

Part of your pancreas is removed as well as part of your small bowel (duodenum), some of the bile duct and your gallbladder. Your stomach is left intact. This is for cancer at the head of the pancreas.

pppd pancreas

Total pancreatectomy

Usually this is done for cancer in the body or tail of the pancreas. All of your pancreas is removed as well as some of your small bowel, part of your stomach, your gallbladder, part of the bile duct, your spleen and nearby lymph nodes.

Distal pancreatectomy

This is done for cancer in the body and tail of the pancreas. The lower end of the pancreas is removed as well as your spleen.

Spleen-preserving distal pancreatectomy

This is when the lower end of the pancreas is removed but the spleen is left intact.

Pancreatic surgery is normally done in the National Surgical Centre for Pancreatic Cancer which is St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin or in The Mercy University Hospital in Cork

TEST - University Hospital Galway Cork

After surgery

Pancreatic surgery is a big operation. You will be in an intensive care or a high dependency unit (HDU) for a day afterwards. You may have an oxygen mask over your face when you wake up and for a short while later. Read more about what happens after surgery

Replacing insulin and pancreatic enzymes

If you have had part or all of your pancreas removed, you may need to take insulin and extra digestive enzymes, which are normally made by your pancreas. If all your pancreas is taken away, will need both of these treatments. If you have the Whipple’s Procedure, you may need vitamin B12 every 3 months. 

If you develop diabetes due to the surgery, you will need to make changes to your diet. Your dietitian and diabetic nurse specialist will give you more advice about this.

Your diet after pancreatic surgery

It may take a while for your stomach to get back to normal. Food may stay in your stomach longer or be ‘dumped’ into the small bowel quickly. Depending on your surgery, you may be advised to eat small meals regularly.

Fatty diarrhoea, bloating, wind and failure to gain weight can be signs you’re not absorbing or digesting your food. 

With pancreatic cancer, you are likely to have some weight loss. You may need to eat a special high-calorie diet and take supplements.

Talk to the hospital dietitian if you have any problems with eating or weight loss or if you have bowel problems after surgery. We also have tips on coping with eating problems and weight loss. If you would like more information on food and cancer, read our booklet Diet and Cancer.

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