Overview

A Whipple procedure — also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy — is a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine (duodenum), the gallbladder and the bile duct.

The Whipple procedure is used to treat tumors and other disorders of the pancreas, intestine and bile duct. It is the most often used surgery to treat pancreatic cancer that's confined to the head of the pancreas. After performing the Whipple procedure, your surgeon reconnects the remaining organs to allow you to digest food normally after surgery.

The Whipple procedure is a difficult and demanding operation and can have serious risks. However, this surgery is often lifesaving, particularly for people with cancer.

Related procedures

Depending on your situation, your doctor may talk with you about other pancreatic operations. Seek a second opinion from a specialized surgeon if needed. Options include:

  • Surgery for tumors or disorders in the body and tail of the pancreas. Surgery to remove the left side (body and tail) of the pancreas is called a distal pancreatectomy. With this procedure, your surgeon may also need to remove your spleen.
  • Surgery to remove the entire pancreas. This is called total pancreatectomy. You can live relatively normally without a pancreas but will need lifelong insulin and enzyme replacement.
  • Surgery for tumors affecting nearby blood vessels. Many people are not considered eligible for the Whipple procedure or other pancreatic surgeries if their tumors involve nearby blood vessels. At a very few medical centers in the United States, highly specialized and experienced surgeons will safely perform these operations in select patients. The procedures involve also removing and reconstructing parts of blood vessels.

Mayo Clinic's approach