Pancreatic Cancer Surgery

Our surgical oncologists offer extensive expertise in the most advanced, minimally invasive procedures for pancreatic cancer. They use evidence-based guidelines to minimize your hospital stay, recovery time and complications while improving outcomes and patient satisfaction.

Patients receiving pancreatic surgery from high-volume surgeons like ours at high-volume hospitals like the Brigham have higher success rates and fewer complications. Our surgeons’ success rates are among the best in the country.

Types of surgery include:


Pancreatoduodenectomy (PD, also known as the Whipple procedure) removes the head of the pancreas, part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and part of the common bile duct, part of the stomach and lymph nodes near the head of the pancreas. Most pancreatic tumors occur in the head of the pancreas, so the Whipple procedure is the most commonly performed surgical procedure for pancreatic cancer. Only a tiny portion of stomach is removed in a traditional PD. This procedure can be done through open or robotic surgery.

Distal (Subtotal/Left-Sided) Pancreatectomy

Distal (subtotal/left-sided) pancreatectomy removes benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) cysts and tumors in the body or the tail of the pancreas. This is the most minimally invasive procedure and can be either a robotic or laparoscopic surgery. A splenectomy (spleen removal) may be needed with this surgery.

Total Pancreatectomy

Total pancreatectomy includes removing the entire pancreas, part of the small intestine and stomach, the common bile duct, the spleen, the gallbladder and some lymph nodes. This type of operation is not done often.

Vascular Reconstruction, Including Portal Vein Resection

Vascular reconstruction, including portal vein resection, is used for locally advanced tumors when the vein is involved. This surgery is combined with the standard pancreaticoduodenectomy or distal pancreatectomy.

Palliative Surgery

Palliative surgery is surgery to help relieve symptoms, such as a blocked bile duct, for patients with more advanced, incurable cancers.

Minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) techniques are available in most cases, including the pancreatoduodenectomy and distal pancreatectomy. These involve small incisions in the abdomen.

Learn more about these surgical treatment options and all of our center’s treatment options.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled to visit the Roberta and Stephen R. Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for preoperative information and tests. Learn more about planning for preoperative appointments, as well as contact information for the Weiner Center.

The Day of Surgery

The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by our surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in pancreatic cancer surgery. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by our experienced surgical and nursing staff. Your hospital stay will depend on the type of surgery you have. The average patient receiving a Whipple procedure will be in the hospital for five to seven days.

You will likely experience pain for the first few days after surgery, but your care team will prescribe medicine to control this. Before you leave the hospital, your care team will start you on an oral pain medicine. Talk with your care team about your options for pain relief.

After Surgery

Recovery time after you leave the hospital varies from patient to patient, but it may take a month or more. Your stomach will be smaller, and you will likely go from having three meals a day to six small meals a day. You may feel tired or weak for many months. You may have constipation from using pain medicine, not moving around or not eating or drinking very much. Talk with your doctor about how to prevent and treat constipation if it occurs.

If you have any questions about your surgery, talk to your health care team. They can help you know what to expect before, during and after your surgery. Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.

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