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Life after whipple surgery

Updated February 21, 2019

Whipple surgery is a complicated procedure performed in patients with pancreatic cancer. The head of the pancreas, duodenum, gallbladder, end of the common bile duct, and sometimes part of the stomach are removed. The small intestine is attached to the remaining portion of the bile duct so bile from the liver can enter the small intestine.

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A major factor in the success of Whipple surgery relates to the experience of the surgeon. According to the University of Southern California, Department of Surgery, the mortality rate from the operation is less than 5 per cent in hospitals that perform a high volume of Whipple procedures.


Five-year survival rate after Whipple surgery is about 20 per cent in surgeries performed because of pancreatic cancer; however, the survival rate increases to about 40 per cent if the cancer has not spread into the lymph nodes.


Possible complications to Whipple surgery include pancreatic fistula where leakage of pancreatic juice seeps through the suture line. This is usually resolved with a temporary drainage catheter in the abdomen. According to the Mayo Clinic, weight loss may occur immediately after the procedure. It is common to lose about 7 per cent of preoperative body weight.


The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network claims eating small meals five to six times a day may help avoid the discomfort of a bloated feeling. Follow all discharge instructions carefully, especially in relation to medications for pancreatic enzyme replacement. The remaining portion of the pancreas may not produce adequate enzymes to digest foods adequately.


According to the University of Southern California, Department of Surgery, researchers have determined that survivors of Whipple surgery rated their quality of life at 79 per cent for physical quality and 81 per cent for social issues. Most patients indicated a return to normal functions.

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About the Author

Norene Anderson has been a writer since 2003. She is also a registered nurse with expertise in a wide range of medical conditions and treatments. Anderson received her associate degree in nursing from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.

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