Stories and news about treatment advances that improve your health and quality of life

Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer

What you need to know

October 20, 2015
Alexander Perez, MD, is a pancreatic surgeon who performs the Whipple procedure at Duke.

Alexander Perez, MD, is a pancreatic surgeon who performs the Whipple procedure at Duke.

If you’ve been diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer, the most important decision you can make is where to go for treatment. Twenty to thirty percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer may benefit from a complex procedure called Whipple surgery. It has the potential to cure pancreatic cancer that has not spread. If you’ve been told you may be a candidate, Duke pancreatic surgeon Dr. Alexander Perez, MD, explains what you need to know when deciding where to get your care.

Whipple surgery is complex

The Whipple procedure is a complex surgery that requires extensive surgical skill to safely remove the head of the pancreas, and portions of the small intestine, bile duct, gall bladder, stomach, and lymph nodes. The remaining organs are then reconnected to allow food to pass through the digestive tract. 

More than 50 Whipple procedures are performed at Duke annually. Our 98 percent survival rate is among the highest in the country.

Choosing a high volume surgical center is important

Because of the complexity of the procedure, surgical experience is very important. Studies show survival rates are higher, and complication rates are lower when Whipple is performed at a high volume center. A recent report also indicated that a person’s chance of surviving a pancreatectomy, which is often used to treat cancer and refers to the removal of all or part of the pancreas, can vary as much as 20 percent.

The American Cancer Society recommends choosing a center where 15 to 20 Whipple procedures are performed annually.

More than 50 Whipple procedures are performed at Duke annually. Our 98 percent survival rate is among the highest in the country.

Laparoscopic Whipple holds several advantages over the open approach, including less blood loss and a faster recovery.

Only handful of centers do laparoscopic Whipple

The vast majority of centers use a large, open incision to reach the organs. In contrast, laparoscopic Whipple is performed through small incisions in the belly. A long, thin tube, known as a laparoscope is equipped with a tiny camera at its tip. This allows surgeons to perform the operation with tiny instruments.

Only a handful of major cancer centers in the U.S. have surgeons with the skills needed to perform a laparoscopic Whipple. The procedure holds several advantages over the open approach, including less blood loss and a faster recovery.

More than 100 laparoscopic Whipples have been performed at Duke since we started doing this advanced minimally invasive surgical procedure in 2010. Our team includes surgeons who are experts in pancreatic surgery and minimally invasive surgery. Our experience has resulted in shorter operating times, less blood loss, and shorter hospital stay. Our results were published in the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

Major cancer centers will give you comprehensive, expert care

Pancreatic cancer treatment does not start and end with Whipple. Only a major cancer center can fully treat your pancreatic cancer by incorporating chemotherapy and radiation therapy, as needed, before and/or after surgery. Ongoing surveillance and monitoring by a team of gastroenterologists, oncologists, specially trained nurses, dieticians, and support staff is key to maximizing your quality of life and extending your survival.

As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, and a member of the National Cancer Center Network, Duke is at the forefront of research and treatment for pancreatic and other cancers. And, as a nationally ranked academic medical center, our experts are trained to treat any complication that may arise. 

Learn more about pancreatic cancer treatment at Duke

Pancreatic cancer
Ready for an appointment?
call us at
855-855-6484 855-855-6484