Surgery for Pancreatic Cancer

Sanjay S. Reddy, MD, FACS is a leader in surgical techniques specific to patients with pancreatic cancer.Sanjay S. Reddy, MD, FACS is a leader in surgical techniques specific to patients with pancreatic cancer.

Fox Chase pancreatic cancer specialists use advanced surgical techniques whenever possible, including minimally invasive and robotic surgeries for smaller incisions and faster recovery. Our surgical team is fellowship-trained, meaning they have completed up to four years of additional training focused specifically on the highly complex techniques of cancer surgery, including minimally invasive procedures.

Fox Chase surgeons not only know how to use the highest technology, they are also national leaders in performing complex surgeries for patients with pancreatic cancer. Our gastrointestinal surgical oncology team works continuously to develop new approaches to treatment and optimize the use of other cancer therapies with surgery.

If your tumor is confined to the pancreas and surrounded by a margin of healthy tissue that can also be removed, surgery may be an option for you. You may undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy before surgery is performed.

There are three types of surgery for pancreatic cancer. Your surgery options will depend on where the tumor is located in the pancreas.

Whipple Procedure

For a tumor in the head of the pancreas (the widest part), the surgery is called a pancreatoduodenectomy—also known as a Whipple procedure. It removes the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the duodenum (first part of the small intestine), part of the bile duct, and often part of the stomach. Surgeons also remove nearby lymph nodes to test for cancer cells. The remaining organs are reattached to allow food digestion. This is the most common surgery for pancreatic cancer.

Distal Pancreatectomy

This surgery removes the body and tail of the pancreas where the tumor is located, along with some nearby lymph nodes, and sometimes the spleen and its blood vessels. The spleen helps you battle infections, so your doctor may advise you to get certain vaccines beforehand.

Total Pancreatectomy

This surgery is for cancer in a large portion of the pancreas and removes the entire organ. It also removes the gallbladder, duodenum, part of the bile duct and stomach, nearby lymph nodes, and sometimes the spleen. It is not often recommended because it has not shown to present better outcomes than less aggressive surgical treatments, and it can lead to the development of diabetes that is difficult to control. However, in some circumstances, this proves to be the best option, and proper preoperative planning with our nutrition and endocrine teams is a key component.

“The multidisciplinary approach is paramount to treating this disease. Our team involves multiple specialists who will step back, look at your case, and become immersed in everything about it. We’ve learned that surgery combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation provides the most optimal results. The best way to do it is to work together, and we do that extremely well.”

Sanjay Reddy, MD, FACS, Department of Surgical Oncology and co-chairman of The Marvin and Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Institute at Fox Chase

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