Whipple Procedure

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Whipple surgery is the only surgery that can cure pancreatic cancer. The procedure removes tumors in the head of your pancreas. Taking out tumors in this location can stop cancer from growing into other organs. 

The procedure can also treat disease or take out tumors in the:

  • Duodenum
  • Bile duct
  • Pancreas
  • Small bowel
  • Small intestine

Why Experience Matters

This is a difficult, complex procedure. Whipple surgery requires a great deal of expertise. Having a highly experienced surgeon leads to fewer risks and better results.

At UVA, we have master surgeons with unmatched experience. We perform more than 55 Whipple surgeries a year. This helps us keep our high level of expertise and skill. In fact, we do more than five times the recommended standard of procedures.

Don't be afraid to ask your surgeon about their knowledge and experience. And get a second opinion to make sure you feel confident in your treatment team.

Whipple Surgery by the Numbers

A quick glance shows how long things could take:

  • The procedure takes 4-12 hours
  • Recovery in the hospital can last 7-14 days
  • Healing at home takes about 2 weeks
  • You can return to normal life after 4-6 weeks

How long each stage in the process takes depends on your condition. Talk to your surgeon about what you can expect.

How the Whipple Procedure Works

Preparing for the the Whipple Procedure

Whipple surgery can stress your body. If you are weak or lack nutrients, we can't do the operation. We'll need to put you on a program to get you strong and healthy. We want you to have the best chance to recover and heal.

The Operation

You'll need to be asleep for the operation. We'll use general anesthetic. We'll access your intestines through an incision.

During the procedure, the surgeon takes out:

  • The pancreas head
  • Part of the small intestine
  • The gallbladder
  • Part of the bile duct
  • Part of the stomach

Then, the surgeon connects parts of the intestine to the stomach, pancreas, and bile duct. Attaching these organs together allows you to eat. This step restores your digestive system to normal.

The surgery can take 4-12 hours. 

What to Expect After Surgery

Healing after Whipple surgery takes time and energy. Your intestine needs time to recover. The new connections in your digestive system have to function well. 

We'll make sure you don't have any problems eating or drinking before you go home.

You'll need to stay in the hospital around 7 days. If you have any problems, you could stay longer. 

Possible problems include:

  • Bleeding 
  • Delayed stomach emptying — makes it hard to keep food and drink down
  • Pancreas leak — from where the pancreas and intestine meet 
  • Infection
  • Diabetes

Survival & Support

How well the Whipple procedure works for you will depend on your situation. Your surgeon and team can talk with you about expectations. You'll want to know all the risks involved.

At UVA, you can find support groups, counselors, and other ways to deal with the stress of cancer and cancer treatment. Learn more about our support services.