Pancreatic Surgery

Pancreatic Surgery BoulderThe pancreas is an important gland located between your spine and your stomach. It is surrounded by the intestine and liver. The pancreas produces hormones, including insulin, that help the body use energy from the food we eat. Also, the pancreas produces digestive enzymes that are released through a bile duct into the small intestine.

Conditions Treated


Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Tumors

Bile Duct Tumors

Pancreatic Pseudocysts

Pancreatic Abscess

Pancreatitis or Pancreatic Cancer Symptoms

  • Persistent abdominal pain in the upper left or upper middle abdomen
  • Pain that worsens when lying flat on the back
  • Pain that worsens minutes after eating or drinking
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of skin or eyes)
  • Fever, sweating, nausea or vomiting
  • Unexpected weight loss

Problems with the pancreas are often caused by inflammation (pancreatitis), or a tumor. Tumors usually arise from the pancreas or surrounding bile ducts.

Surgical pancreatitis is usually caused by gallstones that form inside the gallbladder and stray away from the gallbladder and irritate the pancreatic duct. The inflammation from pancreatitis can often be cured, but may damage a part of the pancreatic tissue causing more serious long term problems.

Unfortunately, most pancreatic and bile duct tumors are not caught until they are at an advanced stage. Pancreatic and bile duct tumors are best treated surgically when caught at an early stage. Treatment of most tumors is managed in conjunction with a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in the medical treatment of cancer patients.

Pancreatic Surgical Procedures

Acute pancreatitis caused by gallstones may go away once the gallstone passes into the lower intestine. If the gallstone blocks the pancreatic duct, it may need to be removed with a minor surgical procedure called an ERCP, a specialized form of endoscopy. This is usually performed by a Gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in medical disease of the intestinal tract. The endoscope, a lighted surgical tube with a TV camera on the end is inserted through the mouth and esophagus. When the endoscopist gets to the pancreatic duct, he uses an instrument (part of the endoscope) to remove the gallstone.

On rare occasions, pancreatitis requires surgery to remove the dead pancreatic tissue and clean the area around the pancreas. Patients who need this surgery have prolonged hospital stays.

Surgery for pancreatic cancer is a major operation that requires removing part or the entire pancreas. Patients need to stay in the hospital for several days afterward. Operations performed usually include a Whipple procedure or distal pancreatectomy. The latter may be performed through minimally invasive means (laparoscopy) in some circumstances.

Since the pancreas produces insulin and the enzymes and hormones that your body needs for digestion, removing part of or your entire pancreas can decrease the amounts your body needs. Diabetes may result if not enough insulin can be produced after surgery or severe pancreatitis. You may need supplements for insulin, hormones, and enzymes.

Getting Back to Normal

  • Pancreatic Surgery will require a hospital stay of several days. Recovery time can vary by patient. It may require multiple weeks at home.
  • You will require medicine to manage post-surgical pain.
  • A liquid diet, supplemental intestinal feeding or intravenous feeding may be used for several days until solid foods can be added to your diet.
  • Patients who have part of their pancreas removed may have difficulty digesting foods. A special diet may help.