Pancreatic cancer is often challenging to treat, because later detection can limit treatment options. But a complex surgical intervention called the Whipple procedure can be a very real lifeline for patients with certain types of pancreatic cancer – and these and other advanced cancer surgeries are being performed at CentraState. The pancreas is a workhorse, secreting hormones to manage blood sugar and enzymes to help the body digest protein and fat. Located behind the stomach, it works in tandem with the liver and the bile duct. The most common type of pancreatic cancer, pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, develops in the ducts that carry digestive enzymes to other organs. When cancer affects the “head” of the pancreas, the Whipple procedure may be performed to remove the tumor and prevent cancer from spreading to other organs. In fact, this surgical approach is the only known cure for most of these tumors. Alexander Itskovich, MD, medical director of the Statesir Cancer Center, has been performing the Whipple procedure for nearly a decade. With the support of a multidisciplinary team, he now offers the intricate surgery at CentraState.
What the Whipple Entails
During the procedure, the head of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), and part of the stomach are removed. Then, the bile duct, the remaining portion of the pancreas, and the remaining portion of the stomach are reconnected to the small intestine so that food can be digested as usual. In some cases, nearby lymph nodes may also be removed. The surgery, which is performed under general anesthesia, can take up to 12 hours. “It’s a technically difficult procedure because it’s performed in a compact area with multiple organs and a maze of large blood vessels that tumors like to invade,” says Dr. Itskovich. “In addition, suturing the pancreas is like sewing gelatin. The procedure requires a special technique.” While it can be lifesaving, the Whipple procedure is not without risks due to its level of complexity. However, most patients return to their usual activities within four to six weeks. Patients may also need chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.
“Being able to perform this surgery is a testament to the caliber of our team,” adds Dr. Itskovich. “If we can handle this level of surgery, we can handle just about anything.”
Early Detection at CentraState
When diagnosed early, pancreatic cancer is easier to treat. To learn if you are at high risk for pancreatic cancer and may be eligible for CentraState’s screening and genetic testing program, visit centrastate.com/pancreatic-screening.
For more information on the Statesir Cancer Center at CentraState, visit centrastatecancercenter.com or call 855-411-CANCER (855-411-2262).