After a successful Whipple procedure, the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer patients goes up to 25 percent, according to WebMD. Without the procedure, only 6 percent of patients are alive at the five-year mark. Around 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients are eligible to have the procedure.
The Whipple procedure, which is also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy, was first performed in 1935 by Allen Whipple, a surgeon at Columbia University, notes WebMD. The procedure involves the removement of the wide part of the pancreas, also known as the head of the pancreas; the duodenum; the gallbladder; part of the common bile duct; and, in some instances, part of the stomach. Once these parts are removed, the remaining parts of the intestine, pancreas and bile duct are reconnected.
Because it usually grows and spreads without any symptoms, pancreatic cancer has one of the worst prognoses among cancers, advises WebMD. Patients who qualify to have the procedure have cancers that are confined the head of the pancreas and have not spread beyond the area. Around 40 percent of newly diagnosed pancreatic cancer patients are not considered for the procedure because their tumors have spread beyond the pancreas. It is rarely available to 40 percent of other patients who have locally advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread to adjacent areas.