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Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer

  • A Whipple procedure is a surgical treatment for pancreatic cancer in the head of the pancreas.

    • The surgeon removes part of the pancreas (the head), the first part of the small intestine, the end of the bile duct, and the gallbladder.
    • The remaining pancreas, small intestine, bile duct and stomach are connected to the small intestine.

    Before the Whipple procedure

    Before the Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer, you will have a laparoscopy.

    This procedure allows the surgeon to look inside your abdomen to see if the cancer has spread in a way that was not seen on a CT or endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).

    If the Whipple procedure cannot be done, you will be able to go home after the laparoscopy.

    During the Whipple procedure

    The Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer is complex because it involves removing and reconstructing portions of the pancreas, stomach, small intestine and bile duct.

    • The surgeon makes a rainbow-shaped incision (cut) under your rib cage, mainly on the right side.
    • The surgeon then removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum), the end of the bile duct, and the gallbladder.
    • Sometimes, the end of the stomach needs to be removed. If this happens, the surgeon will remove one-third of your stomach.
    • For the final part of surgery, the surgeon connects the end of the small intestine to the pancreas, bile duct and stomach.

    Risks of the Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer

    As with all surgeries, the Whipple procedure has risks. Your surgeon will talk with you about the specific risks, some of which are listed below.

    • Digestive fluids may leak after the pancreas and small intestine are connected. As a result, infection or inflammation could occur around the connection. To lower this risk the surgeon:
      • may place a small, temporary tube in the pancreatic duct to allow the fluids to enter the intestine from the connection.
      • may cover the connection with a special adhesive.
      • will also place a drain (clear plastic tube) out the right side of your abdomen. Fluid goes out the drain into a small suction bulb. The drain would likely be removed before you go home.
    • You may develop diabetes. This means the level of glucose (sugar) in your blood is too high. This disease can be managed through lifestyle changes and medicine.
      • You may require a blood transfusion. It is uncommon but the surgery staff will be prepared. Risk of infection from a transfusion is low.
      • Infection may occur in your abdomen or in the incision. To lower this risk you:
      • will take a shower using a special soap before surgery.
      • will receive antibiotic medicine through your intravenous (IV) line right before surgery.
    • Your stomach may have problems sending digested food to the small intestine. This is called delayed gastric emptying. To lower this risk:
      • Eat five small meals a day for the first few weeks after surgery.
      • Follow the diet information you receive.
    • Other general risks of surgery include:
      • heart attack
      • stroke
      • blood clots in your legs
      • slow return of bowel function
      • long hospital stay
      • death
  • Cancer rehabilitation

    Whether you are a pancreatic cancer survivor or are undergoing cancer treatment, you may face symptoms that interfere with daily life. Our cancer rehabilitation team can help you overcome:

    • weakness
    • inability to exercise/fitness
    • difficulty with balance or walking
    • thinking and memory problems
    • tight or painful muscles and joints
    • difficulty with daily living tasks
    • difficulty with hand dexterity
    • swelling (edema)

    For an appointment, call 612-863-8947.


    Cancer research

    Participating in a clinical trial may help you take a more active role in your health care. You may also gain access to new drugs, treatments and disease management practices.


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