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Jonathan C. Gipson, MD

Can Surgical Procedures “Cure” Pancreatic Cancer?

May 4, 2020 | By Jonathan Gipson, MD, FACS

Many of us have followed the medical journey of Alex Trebek since he announced his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is a very important organ that sits in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. It releases enzymes that help to digest food and hormones that help to manage blood sugar.

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect, as symptoms can be mild and misleading until the cancer is quite advanced, as was the case with Alex Trebek. If the cancer is caught earlier, however, there are surgical options. According to the Mayo Clinic, 50% of the 55,000 cases of pancreatic cancer diagnosed in the United States each year may be suitable for surgical procedures.

Surgical options may include a distal pancreatectomy, which is surgery to remove the left side of the pancreas and sometimes the spleen, or a total pancreatectomy, which is surgery to remove the entire pancreas. With this surgery, patients need lifelong insulin and enzyme replacement. In the Whipple procedure, the head of the pancreas, the beginning of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder and bile duct are removed. If the cancer is extensive, we may also remove a portion of the stomach or nearby lymph nodes.

At Specialists in General Surgery, we have experts in minimally invasive surgery. In appropriate patients, the Whipple procedure or the distal pancreatectomy operation can be performed using minimally invasive techniques, either laparoscopically or laparoscopic robotic assisted. This type of “key hole” surgery aims to minimize incisions, expedite healing and enhance patient recovery.

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, call us today to learn more about our surgical options.