What is the Whipple procedure?

A Whipple procedure, also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy, is a surgical procedure that involves removing parts of the pancreas, duodenum, bile duct and in some cases, part of the stomach. This is the most commonly used treatment for pancreatic conditions.

Who is a candidate for the Whipple procedure?

A Whipple procedure is most appropriate for patients who have pancreatic tumors that are confined to the head of the pancreas. This means that the cancer has not spread to the liver, lungs, abdominal cavity or any nearby blood vessels.

When appropriate, your doctor may recommend a minimally invasive Whipple procedure, which will result in less blood loss, shorter recovery and hospital stay as well as fewer side effects.

If your cancer has spread beyond the pancreas, you are not a candidate for the Whipple procedure. Your doctor will do extensive testing to determine if you are a candidate for the Whipple procedure.

Risks associated with the Whipple procedure

Because the Whipple procedure is very complicated and risky, it is important to have the procedure at a hospital that has experienced surgeons who perform it regularly.

The most serious complications associated with the Whipple procedure include:

  • Fistula development
  • Leakage from the area where the bowel was reconnected
  • Infection
  • Severe bleeding
  • Problems with the stomach emptying after meals

Less serious complications associated with the Whipple procedure include:

  • Weight loss
  • Diabetes - if too many insulin-producing cells are removed during surgery

Mercy Health surgeons have vast experience performing the Whipple procedure.

What to expect during the Whipple procedure?

Because the Whipple procedure is complex, it will require a skillful surgeon and can take many hours to perform.

During the procedure, your doctor will remove the widest part of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, part of the common bile duct, gallbladder and in some cases, portions of the stomach. When all the diseased tissue is removed, your surgical team will reconnect the remaining intestines, bile duct and pancreas.

Recovery from the Whipple procedure

Recovery from the Whipple procedure is a lengthy and painful process. You will be hospitalized for a week or more after the Whipple procedure. If you are in severe pain, your doctor will prescribe medications that can relieve the pain.

You will only be able to eat small quantities of foods that are easy to digest. You may also need to take pancreatic enzymes to aid in digestion. Some people may have to take these enzymes long term.

You may experience diarrhea for as long as three months post-surgery.

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