The Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer involves removing the head of the pancreas, the duodenum, the gallbladder and the end of the common bile duct, says Mayo Clinic. The surgeon may also remove part of the stomach. After this, he reconnects the pancreas, bile duct and intestine.
The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. The surgery often takes about six hours, and the patient can spend up to two weeks in the hospital.
Even though the surgery is extensive and difficult, surgeons can perform it laparoscopically, says Mayo Clinic. The surgeon makes six small incisions in the abdomen and operates with miniaturized and specialized instruments. The surgeon inserts the laparascope, a thin, flexible tube with a camera at one end, into one of the incisions. Images transmitted from the laparoscope to a monitor guide the surgeon. Though laparoscopic surgery cuts down on bleeding and the risk of infection, its utilization depends on the location of the tumor and other factors.
The most common complication after Whipple surgery is delayed gastric emptying, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. This means that the stomach takes too long to pass its contents into the small intestine. This usually lasts about a week. Another complication is pancreatic enzymes leaking into the abdominal cavity.