Whipple Procedure: Pancreaticoduodenectomy


The Whipple procedure (pancreaticoduodenectomy) is an operation to remove pancreatic cancer from the head or neck of the pancreas, where this cancer most commonly occurs. It can also be used to treat bile duct cancer, cancer of the first part of the small intestine (duodenum) and non-cancerous (benign) cysts and lesions.
In the Whipple procedure, about half the pancreas, most of the duodenum, the gallbladder, the end of the common bile duct and sometimes part of the stomach are all removed. Your doctor reconnects the parts that are necessary to digest your food: the intestine, bile duct and remaining part of the pancreas.

The Whipple procedure is the most common operation to remove pancreatic cancers. You’re a candidate for a Whipple procedure if your pancreatic cancer is only in the head and neck of the pancreas and hasn’t spread to other organs, lymph nodes or blood vessels.

What to Expect

The Whipple procedure is a complex surgery that takes about 6 hours and requires a hospital stay of a week or two. Your doctor will give you prep instructions, which will include cleaning out your digestive tract the way you would for a colonoscopy. You’ll receive anesthetics for the procedure. During the operation, your doctor makes a small cut (incision) in your abdomen and inserts a thin tube (laparoscope) that contains a light and camera that projects pictures onto a monitor. This lets your doctor check to see if the cancer has spread. If doesn’t appear to have spread, your doctor will remove the laparoscope and makes a large incision for the Whipple procedure.

Some people can have a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) Whipple procedure, which requires 6 small incisions in the stomach area instead one large one. Your doctor inserts a long tube with a camera into one of the incisions and surgical instruments through other incisions. 


After the procedure, you won’t be able to eat or drink normally for a few days. Laparoscopic Whipple surgery takes requires a hospital stay of about 4 to 6 days. You should be able return to normal activities after about a month.
People usually recover completely within 2 months, though it may take as long as 6 months. You’ll have to take medication when you eat because your body has lost its ability to digest food as quickly as it should.

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