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The standard surgical treatment for cancer of the pancreatic head remains the pancreaticoduodenectomy, first described by Dr. A.O. Whipple in 1935. 

Download a full set of images and illustrations in a PDF document that describes the operation in detail.

The goals of surgical therapy are:

  • Reasonable opportunity for cure
  • Risk of death should not outweigh the prospects for cure
  • Patient should be left in as normal a condition as possible

Advances in surgical technique, anesthesia and hospital care have resulted in a 30-day in-hospital mortality rate of less than 1 percent for pancreaticoduodenectomies performed at major referral centers by experienced surgeons. Patient selection, preoperative medical evaluation, surgical technique and postoperative care are all critically important in minimizing patient morbidity and mortality and optimizing long-term oncologic outcome. A reasonable level of experience with major pancreatic resection necessary to achieve good results.

Vein Resection During Whipple Procedure

It is generally felt that surgical resection of the primary tumor is necessary to cure the patient with pancreatic cancer. When vascular resection and reconstruction is performed by experienced surgeons at institutions where such surgery is frequently done, morbidity and mortality are not increased compared to a standard Whipple procedure without vascular resection. 

For those patients who are deemed unresectable due to local tumor extension to adjacent blood vessels, the median survival is 10 to 12 months. 

In contrast, if the primary tumor can be resected (to include adjacent vessels when necessary), median survival is 2-3 years and almost one-third of such patients survive 5 years from the time of diagnosis. 

All of our patients are evaluated in a multidisciplinary fashion by experts in diagnostic radiology, gastroenterology, medical oncology, radiation oncology, and surgery. For the pancreatic cancer patient, surgery is just one part of a successful treatment program. Additional information can be found in the references which are available in PDF format on our Web site.


The above is a contribution from Douglas B. Evans, MD and  Kathleen Christians, MD.

  • Von Hoff DD, Evans DB, Hruban RH. Pancreatic Cancer. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2005.
  • Katz MHG, et al. Anatomy of the superior mesenteric vein with special reference to the surgical management of first-order branch involvement at pancreaticoduodenectomy. Ann Surg. 2008;248(6):1098-102.
  • Tseng, et al. Pancreaticoduodenectomy with vascular resection: margin status and survival duration. J Gastrointest Surg 2004;8:935-49.

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Cancer and the COVID-19 Vaccine

There is currently no data that suggests current or former cancer patients should avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Cancer can weaken your immune system, so we recommend that most patients get the vaccine as soon as possible. 

Recognized as High Performing by U.S. News & World Report

Froedtert Hospital is nationally ranked in three adult specialties by U.S. News & World Report. Froedtert Hospital is also recognized as high performing in four adult specialties and 14 procedures and conditions, including gastroenterology and GI surgery. Learn more.