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Pancreatic Cancer – Whipple Procedure

The Whipple procedure, used to treat pancreatic, upper intestinal and bile duct cancers, is one of the most extensive operations in surgery. Also called a pancreatoduodenectomy, the surgery involves the removal of parts of four organs and reconstruction of the digestive tract.

Some of the most experienced doctors who perform the Whipple procedure in the Chicago area are practicing here at Loyola Hospital. While most hospitals across the country only perform one or two of these procedures in a year, Loyola completes 40 to 50. Altogether, Loyola completes more than 70 pancreatic resections a year.

Our experience has led us to be recognized as a leader in this procedure. In 1995, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin chose Loyola for his cancer care, and one of our doctors performed the Whipple procedure on him.

Because of our skill in this procedure, our post-operative mortality rate for Whipple patients is less than two percent. Further, the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer patients who undergo the Whipple here is 20 percent. This equals the survival rate at other top hospitals, including Johns Hopkins, Sloan-Kettering and the Mayo Clinic.

Research indicates that patients who have the Whipple surgery performed by an experienced surgeon and at a center with experience such as Loyola get better results. A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the lowest mortality and best outcomes occur at medical centers that do many of these procedures.

The Whipple procedure gets its name from Allen Whipple, an American surgeon who made numerous improvements to the technique. It involves removal of the head of the pancreas, the gall bladder, the duodenum (first section of the small intestine), the common bile duct and sometimes part of the stomach. The surgeon then reconstructs the digestive tract. The operation may take anywhere from four and a half to seven hours, and our patients usually spend eight to 10 days in the hospital.

The Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center convenes a multidisciplinary gastrointestinal oncology group every week to discuss patient care. This team includes experts from gastroenterology, surgical oncology, radiation oncology, medical oncology, diagnostic radiology, pathology and nutrition.

Loyola is able to perform specialized tests for diagnosing and staging a pancreatic tumor, including thin cut 3D CT scans and endoscopic ultrasounds that give a clear view of the pancreas and the major vessels that lie below and around it. Loyola also participates in trials supported by the National Cancer Institute for advanced pancreatic cancer and pancreatic cancer resection.

Our doctors are members of the International and American Hepato-Pancreatic-Biliary Association, the American Pancreatic Association, the International Associaton of Pancreatology and the Pancreas Club.