A Whipple procedure is complex surgery to remove part of the pancreas along with the:
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Complications that occur as a result of surgery may include:
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications. such as:
Before surgery, your doctor may do the following tests:
Your doctor may put you on a special diet before the surgery to help your body prepare. If you are not able to eat, you may need to go to the hospital several days before surgery. You will be given glucose and fluids through an IV.
Talk to your doctor about your medications, herbs, and dietary supplements. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to one week before the procedure.
General anesthesia will be used. It will block any pain and keep you asleep during surgery.
For open Whipple procedures, a large incision will be made in the abdomen. The head of the pancreas and the gallbladder, duodenum, and pylorus will be removed. Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed. The remaining pancreas and digestive organs will be reconnected. This will allow the digestive enzymes from the pancreas and stomach contents to flow into the small intestine. In some cases, the pylorus is not removed. The doctor will close the incision with stitches or staples. The incisions will be covered with bandages.
For laparoscopic procedures, a camera and small surgical instruments are inserted through small incisions into the abdomen. The organs can be removed and reconnected through the openings. After the area is carefully examined, the laparoscope will be removed. The doctor will close the incision with stitches or staples. The incisions will be covered with bandages.
You may have many small tubes placed after the procedure. Some will help drain fluid from the surgery site. Another tube may go into your stomach to help prevent nausea and vomiting. A tube may go to your intestines so you can receive nutrition.
After surgery, you will stay in the intensive care unit for several days. This will help the doctors and nurses monitor your progress.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during surgery. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
You will need to stay in the hospital until your intestines begin to work again. This usually takes 2 weeks. You may need to stay longer if there are any problems.
During surgery, your doctor may have placed a jejunostomy tube (j-tube). You will receive nutrients through this tube until your intestines are working normally. After the tube is removed, you can gradually progress to a soft diet, then to regular food.
Other tubes will be removed as you recover.
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chance of infection, such as:
This surgery will affect the way your body digests food. You may feel bloated or full after eating. You may have nausea and vomiting. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to learn how you should eat. You may need to start new medications to help with digestion and medications to help control your blood sugar. Follow instructions about wound care to prevent infection.
Contact your doctor if your recovery is not progressing as expected or you develop complications, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
National Cancer Institute
Pancreatic Cancer Action Network
Canadian Cancer Society
Pancreatic Cancer Canada
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What you need to know about cancer of the pancreas. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/pancreas.pdf. Accessed February 27, 2014.
Whipple procedure. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website. Available at: https://www.pancan.org/section-facing-pancreatic-cancer/learn-about-pan-cancer/treatment/surgery/whipple-procedure-pancreaticoduodenectomy. Accessed February 27, 2014.
6/6/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Mills E, Eyawo O, Lockhart I, et al. Smoking cessation reduces postoperative complications: Asystematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Med. 2011;124(2):144-154.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Donald Buck, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.