Whipple Procedure (Pancreaticoduodenectomy)

The Whipple procedure is the most common operation for pancreatic cancer patients. It can also be used to treat chronic pancreatitis, other cancers such as small bowel cancer and abnormalities in the head of the pancreas.

Our Capabilities

Our center is one of the few high-volume pancreatic surgery centers in the U.S., and we perform more Whipple procedures (more than 100 a year) than any other hospital in the region.

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With careful research, we create a personalized plan for you that takes into account everything from your age to your medication tolerance. Side by side, our team of subspecialists diagnose, treat and manage your pancreatic cancer to provide the best care possible for you in a caring and comfortable environment.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Pancreatic Disease team at 513-584-8900.

Help Along the Way

Answers to Your Whipple Procedure Questions

During a Whipple procedure, surgeons remove the head of the pancreas, all of the duodenum (a small part of the intestine), a portion of the bile duct and a portion of the stomach. After the pancreaticoduodenectomy is complete, the surgeon reconstructs the digestive tract.

This procedure is primarily for patients with pancreatic cancer and patients with benign disorders requiring surgery such as chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cysts. It can also be used to treat certain forms of small bowel cancer and bile duct cancer.

As with any surgery, there are some risks and potential complications. Your surgeon will assess and review your specific risks in detail as you prepare for surgery. Risks depend on each patient’s medical and surgical history and current health status and may vary greatly from person to person. Potential complications include:

  • Postoperative fluid collections or abscess formation – leaking can occur at the procedure sites and can cause fluid to accumulate within the abdomen. This fluid can sometimes become infected, causing an abscess. Often, these leaks resolve on their own without any intervention. Occasionally, they may need to be drained by placing a tube into the abdominal wall or in the abscess. The tube is removed once the drainage resolves. On rare occasions, another surgery may be required to resolve the problem.
  • Delayed gastric emptying – in some instances, the stomach seems to “fall asleep” following surgery. The result is difficulty eating, feeling full quickly, nausea and sometimes vomiting. This will eventually improve on its own, but there is no way to determine how long it may take. Some patients may need to have a temporary feeding tube if they are not able to eat enough on their own.
  • Wound infection or breakdown – abdominal incisions can occasionally become infected, or there may be areas that do not completely close by the time the staples are removed. Initially, the incision may appear completely closed and later start seeping drainage, or a small bulge may develop near the incision. This may mean there is a small collection of fluid under the skin. This is easily fixed by gently opening these areas with a cotton swab and then performing packing twice daily until the incision heals from the bottom up. Antibiotics are prescribed if the incision becomes infected. Healing may take several weeks.
  • Blood clots/pneumonia – blood clots can occur in either the legs or lungs. Patients are given blood thinners at the time of surgery and compression boots/special stockings are applied after surgery to reduce this risk. Patients are also ordered to be out of bed and walking very soon after surgery to prevent blood clots and other respiratory problems such as pneumonia.
  • Bleeding or cardiac arrest – significant bleeding or cardiac arrest are rare complications that may occur after a Whipple procedure.

Here’s what else you can expect with this procedure:

  • Estimated length of surgery: 4–6 hours.
  • Estimated time in surgical intensive care unit: 24–48 hours.
  • Estimated hospital stay: 7–10 days.
  • Estimated post-op recovery: 6–8 weeks.

In addition, patients can expect a large abdominal scar from this procedure as the incision made into the abdomen extends from one side of the abdomen to the other. 

Preparing for Your Surgery and Return Home

To help prepare you for what to expect before, during and after your procedure, please see below.

Insurance Approval

Our billing office will seek insurance approval for this procedure. Precertification is completed as needed, according to your insurance requirements and plan coverage.

Disability/Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Paperwork

We are happy to complete any necessary paperwork for you or your family to allow for time off work, so please provide it as soon as possible. Forms are usually completed within 7–10 business days.

Preoperative Work-Up

Preoperative tests may include a CT scan, blood tests within one month of surgery, a chest X-ray, an anesthesiologist evaluation, a physical exam and/or cardiac or pulmonary evaluation.

What to Bring

Please bring the following with you: Patient information packet, comb/brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, eyeglasses and case, robe and slippers, cane, walker, CPAP, crutches, photo ID, insurance card, living will/power of attorney and medication list.

When Can I Go Home?

You must be able to eat and drink, control your pain with oral medication and show that your bowels function normally before being discharged from the hospital.

When You Return Home

During your recovery, try to walk a bit every day, continue your breathing/coughing exercises, avoid strenuous activity until approved by your surgeon and do not drive while taking pain medication.

Insurance Approval

Our billing office will seek insurance approval for this procedure. Precertification is completed as needed, according to your insurance requirements and plan coverage.

Disability/Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) Paperwork

We are happy to complete any necessary paperwork for you or your family to allow for time off work, so please provide it as soon as possible. Forms are usually completed within 7–10 business days.

Preoperative Work-Up

Preoperative tests may include a CT scan, blood tests within one month of surgery, a chest X-ray, an anesthesiologist evaluation, a physical exam and/or cardiac or pulmonary evaluation.

What to Bring

Please bring the following with you: Patient information packet, comb/brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, eyeglasses and case, robe and slippers, cane, walker, CPAP, crutches, photo ID, insurance card, living will/power of attorney and medication list.

When Can I Go Home?

You must be able to eat and drink, control your pain with oral medication and show that your bowels function normally before being discharged from the hospital.

When You Return Home

During your recovery, try to walk a bit every day, continue your breathing/coughing exercises, avoid strenuous activity until approved by your surgeon and do not drive while taking pain medication.

When to Call Your Surgeon

Call your surgeon if you experience severe or increased pain, a fever of 101.0 or higher, persistent nausea or vomiting, difficult bowel movements, a rash or itching, shortness of breath or chest pain, drainage, leg pain or swelling, and/or redness, pus or bleeding.

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Referring Physicians: Success and Provider Toolbox

We are committed to providing optimal care to your patient and open communication with you. As a referring physician, we understand that you need to be kept informed on your patient’s progress. That’s why we set up a toolbox to share detailed information about your patient’s health with you.

For referral information, call:

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