The pancreas is a large gland located behind the stomach that secretes digestive enzymes, as well as the hormones insulin and glucagon. This aids in the digestive process by secreting the enzymes into the small intestine. The hormone insulin that is produced by the pancreas helps to regulate the body’s glucose or sugar level.
There are several conditions that can affect the pancreas. Pancreatic surgery may be necessary to treat a variety of conditions, including acute and chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cysts.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas caused when the pancreatic enzymes destroy its own tissue. Pancreatitis is acute when it occurs once and, with proper treatment, the organ returns to normal. Chronic pancreatitis is similar to acute pancreatitis, except when the disease is chronic, the inflammation doesn’t improve. Treatment for chronic pancreatitis can range from medication to endoscopic therapies or surgery.
Pancreatic cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the pancreas. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related death in men and women. Pancreatic cysts are masses located in the pancreas. Pancreatic cysts can be painful and can lead to pancreatic cancer.
If you have an issue with your pancreas, the two most common surgical procedures are The Whipple procedure and the distal pancreatectomy. These are complex surgeries that can last upwards of five hours and can cause complications.
The Whipple procedure can be used to treat pancreatic cancer and benign conditions. The key is that this procedure can only be used to treat conditions in the front portion of the pancreas. During surgery, the wide part of the pancreas is removed, along with the gallbladder and possibly a portion of the stomach, followed by reconnection of the pancreas to the bile duct and the remaining intestine. Possible complications of this procedure include a pancreas leak, where digestive enzymes made in the pancreas leak out due to improper healing of the connection to the pancreas, and gastroparesis, a condition where the stomach doesn’t empty properly following surgery. These conditions may be treated with a simple drain tube or can require more complex treatment.
The distal pancreatectomy procedure can be used to treat benign or malignant pancreatic conditions. This surgery may also be done to treat chronic pancreatitis or injuries to the pancreas. During this procedure, the body or the tail of the pancreas is removed. The spleen may also be removed. With this procedure there may still be enough of the pancreas left to continue to make the hormones and enzymes needed for food digestion. Post surgery follow up should be done to monitor hormones and enzyme levels. Your doctor or nurse will explain what to expect after surgery. You may need to monitor any drainage tubes you have and will be instructed when to return for post-surgery evaluation.
Conditions that may relate to pancreatic surgery
- Abdominal surgery
- Cystic fibrosis
- Certain medications
- Overactive parathyroid gland causing high levels of calcium in the blood
- High triglyceride level
- Abdominal injury
- Family history of pancreatitis
- Pancreatic cancer
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