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Among all the forms of common cancers, it has been found that pancreatic cancer has the poorest prognoses. This reason can be attributed to the cancer growing and spreading long before it starts showing any visible symptoms. A survey revealed that only 6 percent patients survive for more than five years after its diagnosis. For some patients, a very complicated surgery known as the Whipple's procedure will be able to extend life and can be counted as a potential cure. After undergoing Whipple's surgery the five-year rate of survival can be increased to 25 percent.

People who are suffering from pancreatic cancer are eligible for the Whipple’s operation. People who have tumors confined to the pancreatic head and the blood vessels, lungs, and livers or the abdominal cavities are still not affected and are recommended to undergo this procedure after intensive testing and evaluation.

People with benign tumors are also recommended to undergo the procedure. For patients who are suffering metastasis, this procedure is not recommended. Cancer in the ampulla, region where the pancreatic duct and bile duct enter, can also be treated.

Whipple's Operation

Whipple's operation is conducted in the head of the pancreas. During the surgery, a segment of the duodenum, bile duct, and the gallbladder is removed. In some cases, a portion of the stomach may also be removed. After these segments are removed, the remaining pancreas, bile duct, and even portion of the intestine will be sutured back to the main intestine to direct the secretion of the gastrointestinal segment into the gut. The Whipple& procedure for pancreatic cancer is long and has several complications associated with it.

A doctor may recommend you to undergo Whipple operation for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Pancreatic cysts, tumors, and cancer
  • Ampullary cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Neuroendocrine tumors
  • Cancer of the bile duct
  • Small bowel cancer
  • Traumatic injury to the small intestine or the pancreas
  • Tumor of disorders of the bile ducts, pancreas, or duodenum

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Before the Treatment

Before the actual procedure, the surgeon will first make a thorough evaluation of your health condition. This is done for two purposes. First, it helps analyze whether you are healthy enough to undergo a surgery. Secondly, it helps figure out which approach of Whipple operation would be the best to treat the condition of the patient.

The following are the three approaches through which a Whipple procedure may be conducted:

    • Open surgery
    • Laparoscopic surgery
    • Robotic surgery

Laparoscopic and robotic surgeries are minimally invasive procedures that allow for minimal healing time, quicker recovery, minimal hospital stay, and less pain.Irrespective of the approach used

The following are some of the things that you will be required to do before the surgery:

    • Talk to your doctor if you are taking any medications or herbal supplements. You may be asked to stop these medications at least a few days before the surgery.
    • Take the medications as advised by the surgeon.
    • Do not eat or drink after midnight before the day of the surgery.
    • Inform the doctor if you are allergic to certain medications.

How it is Performed

  • An intravenous (IV) line is put into a vein of the arm. You may receive a medication through the IV line that will help you relax.
  • General anaesthesia is administered to put you into temporary sleep so that you do not experience any discomfort.
  • A urinary catheter will be inserted to drain urine during and after the surgery.
  • The surgeon makes a single large incision (open surgery) or multiple small incisions (laparoscopic surgery) to access the internal organs.
  • The head of the pancreas is removed along with the gallbladder, small intestine, and the bile duct.
  • Sometimes, a part of the stomach and the nearby lymph nodes may also be performed.
  • In certain cases, another pancreatic surgery for some other procedure may also be performed at this time.
  • The remaining portions of the stomach, pancreas, and intestines are reconnected after the procedure.


The operation is considered quite complex and therefore, the patient is required to stay in the hospital for one or two weeks with first night spent in ICU. Fatigue is common during Whipple’s procedure recovery phase for the first two months and follow-up occurs once in a week. This is followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the case of cancer.

  • Patients are encouraged for short walks initially.
  • Slowly, solid foods are incorporated into the diet while pills are given for pain management.
  • Patients are instructed on how to keep the incision area clean and bathing instructions are given.
  • Consumption of small meals are recommended and the patients are advised to avoid fatty foods completely
  • Pancreatic enzyme replacements can be given.
  • The patient is asked to increase water intake and avoid lifting heavy weights.

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Q: How many hours does it take to conduct Whipple procedure?

A: The surgery usually lasts anywhere between five to eight hours.

Q: What is a Whipple diet?

A: Whipple’s procedure, also known as pancreaticodudectomy, is a demanding procedure as it requires the patient to follow a strict diet after the surgery. This is because the pancreas and a part of the small intestine and sometimes, stomach are removed during the procedure. Therefore, digestion is affected.

Q: Can I drink alcohol after the pancreas surgery?

A: Drinking alcohol is strictly prohibited for at least a few months after the surgery. You must seek approval from your doctor as to when it is safe to consume alcohol.

Q: Can a person live without a pancreas?

A: It is absolutely possible to live without a pancreas. However, an individual who no longer has a pancreas may develop diabetes after its removal.

Q: Can someone die of pancreatic cancer?

A: It is estimated that more than 95 percent of the patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die from it. This is because it is mostly diagnosed in the advanced stages.

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Whipple's Procedure