The pancreas is an important organ which produces chemicals to help in the digestion of food, and also in the production of hormones, like insulin, to regulate our body functions. Common problems include inflammation and cancer formation. Pancreas cancer can be aggressive.
What is the pancreas?
The pancreas is an organ located at the upper abdomen, and it lies behind the stomach. Within the pancreas is a system of small tubes, also known as pancreatic ducts, which transports the enzymes produced by the pancreas into the small intestine to help digestion. The pancreas also produces a number of hormones to regulate body functions. One of these hormones is insulin, which regulate our blood sugar level.
Pancreas cancer usually refers to a cancer of the cells lining the ducts within the pancreas. Therefore, the scientific medical term for this type of cancer is known as pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. This is a very aggressive cancer. Only 1 out of 10 patients who has this disease can be treated by surgery. This is because most patients, upon diagnosis, are already at an advanced stage.
Family history of pancreatic cancer
People who has a cystic tumour of the pancreas (such as intra-ductal papillary mucinous tumours)
Chronic inflammation of the pancreas (chronic pancreatitis)
Older age, as most patients tend to be older than 65 years of age Family history of genetic syndromes which predispose to cancer, such as a BRCA2 gene mutation, Lynch syndrome, etc.
The doctor would usually get a specialized scan, such as the CT scan or MRI. Sometimes a biopsy may be needed. The doctor would also need to check if the cancer has spread, and hence, he may also get a PET scan.
Depending on what is the stage of the cancer, the doctor will then decide on the appropriate treatment. If the cancer is advanced and has spread beyond the pancreas, the doctor will recommend chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both.
If the cancer is still confined to the pancreas, surgery is possible. Surgery offers the best hope. The type of surgery depends on the location of the cancer in the pancreas.
If the cancer is in the head of the pancreas, the name of the surgery is called Whipple operation (or pancreaticoduodenectomy). If you wish to read more about this surgery, click on this tab
The Whipple operation is an operation to remove the head of the pancreas, along with the duodenum, a portion of the bile duct, the gallbladder, and a portion of the stomach.
After removal of these structures the remaining pancreas, bile duct and the stomach is then stitched back into the intestine to reconstitute the continuity of the digestive tract.
Pylorus-preserving pancreatico-duodenectomy surgery is similar as Whipple Operation and the difference is the entire stomach is preserved and not removed. PPPD is said to allow better long-term digestive function and better quality of life
Whipple operation is a major operation that require around 6-8 hours. You will be nursed in the High Dependency ward or even the ICU for one or two days.
The patient will have a nasogastric tube and a urine catheter. In addition, there will be one to two surgical tubes placed into the abdomen to remove any residual fluid or blood. You would not be allowed to eat for a couple of days. Intravenous fluid will be given for hydration as well as nutrition.
The average length of stay is 10-14 days. If there are any complications, the length of stay will be prolonged.
If the cancer is in the body or the tail of the pancreas, then the surgery that would be done is called a distal pancreatectomy. The spleen may be removed at the same time.
If you are told that there is a “tumour” in your pancreas, and would like to know if an operation is needed, and what type of technique is suitable for your condition, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Are there any other types of pancreas tumour?
The answer is yes. These may be less aggressive, and therefore cure is quite possible. Examples are:
There are some alternative surgical techniques to remove such tumours, and it include laparoscopic or keyhole operations. Other options include:
The key is to have a healthy lifestyle:
We can give you the peace of mind.