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Pancreaticoduodenectomy – what a mouthful! This long word is the technical name for one of the most common pancreas surgery procedures. Also known as the Whipple procedure, this surgery involves removing a diseased section of the pancreas. But what even is the pancreas? Why do we need it? And what should you expect if you need this surgery?
Many people would likely have difficulty pointing up the location of the pancreas, let alone naming what it does. The pancreas can be found in the abdomen, just behind the stomach. It is a small organ, not more than a few inches long, but one of the most essential organs for daily life. The pancreas is responsible for the creation of specific chemicals that the body uses for digestion. These chemicals, also known as enzymes, are used to break down the food that we eat. without these enzymes, we would be unable to process the fat, proteins, and carbs within our food into energy.
At the same time, the pancreas also responsible for creating the two hormones that monitor and regulate blood sugar- insulin and glucagon. In cases where the pancreas is unable to produce the hormones and enzymes it should, serious and life-threatening side effects can develop.
When functioning properly, the pancreas is an essential organ for regulating energy levels and providing the body with the nutrients it requires. However, in some cases, the pancreas can pose a potential threat to the rest of the body. For example, in the case of pancreatitis, those enzymes used to digest food begin the process of digestion on the pancreas itself.
Other times, the pancreas can develop cancer. This can be a serious risk, as cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This makes the pancreas a risk to the other organs within the body.
During the procedure for pancreas surgery, you will be anaesthetized and the surgeons will do what they do best. Depending on your specific needs, they may remove certain sections of the pancreas and even surrounding tissue. Usually, the general needs can be identified long before the surgery starts. Some decisions need to be made while the surgery is happening. That is why you want to have the best surgeons you can find working with you!
Once the surgery has been completed, a short stay is to be expected. This gives us an excellent opportunity to closely monitor your recovery, vital signs, and medication use to ensure you are healing properly. Your stay will likely not be more than a few days, but full recovery from pancreas surgery can take up to a few months. While you recover, there are a few side effects and changes you can expect. The first and most common is operation site pain or discomfort. Digestive problems have also been noted. As the pancreas plays such a large part in digestion, it is only to be expected that the body will have to adjust to a new way of doing things. The most noteworthy aspect of this is the fact that you will not be able to eat for a few days after the surgery.
Any time there is a procedure near the abdomen, there is a potential for essential skills such as walking and sitting up to be impaired. It will be important to, in accordance with your specific instructions from your surgeon, stay active to the extent possible.
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The pancreas being a key organ of the endocrine and digestive systems of the body is indispensable for the smooth functioning of the human body. Hence, a diseased condition of the pancreas, like a tumor, abscess or malignancy that causes pancreatitis and makes the dysfunctional organ calls for pancreatic surgery. There are different methods, or kinds of pancreas surgery and the type that a patient will have to opt for will depend upon whether his or her pancreatitis is chronic or acute.
More often than not, the condition or syndrome can be treated and managed without going for invasive intervention or surgery. Nevertheless, if an infection or degeneration of the pancreatic tissues becomes longstanding and acute, surgery is the only treatment option.
The most common pancreatic surgery procedures include minimally invasive pancreatic resection, spleen-preserving pancreatectomy, ‘The Whipple’, and Enucleation of pancreatic tumor.’ Minimally invasive pancreatic resection surgery is conducted laparoscopically giving the interventional radiologist or gastroenterologist good access to the abdomen via tiny keyhole notches. This surgical method is appropriate for patients having pancreatic cysts.
Spleen-preserving pancreatectomy is conducted laparoscopically where the pancreas is excised, but the spleen is kept intact for preserving its immunological functionality as well as minimize the risks of complications and infections in the future. The traditional pancreatectomy method entails the removal of the spleen along with the metastatic pancreas for reversing the spread of cancer. Nevertheless, if the surgery is carried out for a benign condition like pancreatic tumor or cyst, then spleen resection is not necessary.
Enucleation process is appropriate for dealing with benign or non-cancerous tumors where these are scraped out carefully instead of expurgating a large pancreatic section.
‘The Whipple’ surgery or ‘pancreaticoduodenectomy’ is the go-to procedure for treating pancreatic cancer and also for dealing with complications or abscesses related to the bile duct, intestine, and pancreas. The surgery where the top of the pancreas, bile duct, gallbladder, and duodenum are removed can be extremely complex and demanding, fraught with risks.
If the surgery is for treating pancreatitis or tumors, then opting for laparoscopic surgery is the best option. In such a case, recuperation is faster necessitating a shorter hospital stay. However, if the surgery is for pancreatic cancer, then the operation lasts for several hours and the patient may have to be in the hospice for at least a week.
Complete recovery might take many weeks and even months. Benefits of going for a major pancreatic surgery are:-
Pancreatic surgeries for dealing with cancer tend to be extremely complicated, and it is no wonder that such operations have a very high mortality rate. Nearly 50% of the patients report grave complications and about 2%-4% expire. The most common risks include:-
Fully recuperating from a complex pancreas surgery takes time and the convalescing process could be exhausting, especially for older patients. You’ll be required to report to your surgeon 1-2 times in a month following your recovery. The doctor will evaluate your progress and may recommend CT or MRI scans, and blood tests to ensure that there is no recurrence of cancerous tumors or lesions.
Dietary and lifestyle changes to have to be made to maintain overall health and also to reduce the risks of relapse.
Pancreatic cancer and all other serious complications of the pancreas are, by and large, regarded as untreatable and hence incurable. Nevertheless, the mortality rates related to pancreatic cancer (post surgery) have steadily declined over the decades.
Living without a pancreas can be a challenge for any individual. If you’re diagnosed with a tumor or inflammation of your pancreas, you can continue to live an almost normal life, provided you opt for an appropriate treatment plan and abide by our physician’s guidelines. If you’ve cancer, then surgical removal of the pancreas is the only option. However, you’ll have to keep your fingers crossed on whether cancer will recur or not.