Procedure for Pancreatic & Gastric Cancers|Loyola Medicine

Whipple Procedure for Pancreatic and Gastric Cancers

Recognized Leader in Whipple Procedure

The Whipple procedure is the most common procedure used to remove pancreatic cancers, and is one of the most extensive operations in surgery.  It may also be used to treat some benign pancreatic lesions and cancers in the bile duct and in part of the small intestine. Also called a pancreatoduodenectomy, the surgery involves the removal of parts of four organs and reconstruction of the digestive tract.
The Whipple procedure gets its name from Allen Whipple, an American surgeon who made numerous improvements to the technique. It involves removal of the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine), the common bile duct and sometimes part of the stomach. The surgeon then reconstructs the digestive tract. The operation may take anywhere from four and a half to seven hours, and patients usually spend eight to 10 days in the hospital.
The Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center convenes a multidisciplinary gastrointestinal oncology group every week to discuss patient care. This team includes experts from diagnostic radiology, gastroenterology, medical oncology, nutrition, pathology, radiation oncology and surgical oncology.

Why Choose Loyola for the Whipple Procedure?

Loyola’s surgeons performing the Whipple procedure are some of the most experienced in the Chicago area. While most hospitals across the country only perform one or two of these procedures in a year, Loyola performs 40 to 50. Loyola also performs more than 70 pancreatic resections a year.
Our experience has led us to be recognized as a leader in this procedure. In 1995, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin chose Loyola for his cancer care, and one of our doctors performed the Whipple procedure to treat his cancer.
Because of our skill in this procedure, our postoperative mortality rate for patients who have a Whipple procedure is less than two percent. Further, the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients who undergo the Whipple procedures at Loyola is 20 percent. This matches the survival rates at other top hospitals, including Johns Hopkins, Sloan-Kettering and the Mayo Clinic.
Research indicates that patients who have the Whipple procedure performed by an experienced surgeon at a center with experience such as Loyola get better results. A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the lowest mortality and best outcomes occur at medical centers that do many of these procedures.

What to Expect throughout Your Whipple Procedure

The Whipple procedure is a difficult surgery and is generally only offered to patients who have removable tumors where there is no cancer spread. Your team of doctors at Loyola will use diagnostic tests and other procedures to determine if you are a candidate for the Whipple procedure.
If the Whipple procedure is a recommended course of treatment for your cancer, your doctor will review the details of surgery and the potential risks. Prior to surgery, you will likely be required to do a bowel prep to eliminate any contents in your digestive tract. The surgery itself begins with your cancer surgeon using a laparoscope to determine if the cancer has spread.  If cancer has not spread, your surgeon will continue with the procedure by creating a larger incision to remove the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, a portion of the bile duct, the gallbladder and sometimes a portion of the stomach. The remaining portions of those organs will be reconnected.
Postoperatively, you can expect to remain in the hospital for at least seven days, with recovery lasting several months due to the invasive nature of the surgery.


What are the Risks of Whipple Procedure?

The Whipple procedure is an extremely complex surgery, and carries a high risk of complications, some of which may be fatal. The most common complications are:

  • Abdominal Infections
  • Bleeding
  • Digestive problems
  • Leaking from the various connections that are made during surgery
  • Trouble with gastric emptying

Patients who undergo removal of the pancreas often develop brittle diabetes.