Surgical Complications Related to Pancreatic Surgery

Anytime you undergo any type of surgery, there is a chance you may experience post-operative complications.  This is especially true if you have surgery to treat pancreatic cancer, or other common pancreatic disorders.

Removing cancerous tumors or otherwise diseased pancreatic tissue is a serious operation and is not to be taken lightly before, during, or after the surgery.

Today we are going to review the varying types of pancreatic surgeries and discuss the complications you may suffer during recovery.  Knowing this information, you can enter treatment more informed and better prepared when your Maryland pancreatic surgeon outlines the necessary steps for recovering your health.


A Brief Look at the Different Types of Pancreatic Surgery

If you are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your pancreatic doctor will first determine whether you are a candidate for curative or palliative pancreatic surgery:

  • Curative Pancreatic Surgery. If it is possible to remove all of the existing cancerous tumors within your pancreas, your pancreas physician will recommend a curative surgical operation.  This means the goal is to cure you of pancreatic cancer.
  • Palliative Pancreatic Surgery. If prior testing has shown your pancreatic doctor that the pancreatic cancer you have cannot be fully removed, he will likely suggest a palliative surgical procedure designed to remove as much diseased tissue as possible and fix any internal issues causing additional pain such as clearing or preventing a blocked bile duct.  The goal here is to not to cure the cancer, rather it is to make you as comfortable as possible.


After deciding which type of surgery you are best suited for, your Maryland pancreatic specialist will then plan a very specific surgical procedure individualized for you.


Whipple Procedure

This is by far the most common type of pancreatic cancer surgery.  Removing both the head portion of your pancreas, as well as portions of the body, your pancreatic surgeon hopes to remove all cancerous tissue and leave you cancer free with the Whipple procedure.

Distal Pancreatectomy

Rather than remove the head of the pancreas during surgery, as is done in a Whipple procedure, a distal pancreatectomy involves removal of the tail of your pancreas instead.  Moreover, your spleen is typically removed during the process as well.  This surgery can be effective, though oftentimes the pancreatic cancer has metastasized to surrounding tissue and complete removal of the cancer is impossible.


Total Pancreatectomy

This process involves removing the entire pancreas in addition to the gallbladder, and portions of the small intestine, spleen, and stomach.  In an attempt to remove pancreatic cancer that has spread throughout the pancreas but has not yet spread to surrounding tissue, a total pancreatectomy is sometimes considered a last ditch effort to ensure you are cancer free post-surgery.


Palliative Surgical Options

If your pancreatic surgeon determines complete removal of your pancreatic cancer is unattainable, you may receive any of the following palliative surgical procedures to treat your cancer as best as possible:

  • Stent Placement. If pancreatic tumors are blocking the pancreatic bile ducts that help you digest food and break down fats you consume with bile, your pancreas doctor may place a small tube (called a stent) into the bile duct to open up the passageway and allow for the normal flow of bile.
  • Bile Duct Bypass. If possible, you may be able to receive a bile duct bypass in which your bile duct surgeon redirects the common bile duct directly into your small intestine, effectually bypassing the pancreas altogether.


In all, it depends on where your pancreatic cancer is located and how severe it is when it comes to choosing the right surgical treatment option.  This is something an experienced pancreatic surgeon will be able to discuss with you so that you can make an educated choice.


Surgical Complications Related to Pancreatic Surgery

Although not everyone who undergoes surgery will experience the following post pancreatic surgery complications, it is important to understand that these complications are real threats to your health.


1. Changes to Your Digestive Process

No matter the type of pancreatic surgery you have, it is crucial you know that the major organs making up your body’s digestive system (pancreas, gallbladder, spleen, small intestine, and stomach) have just been operated on.  This means you will likely experience at least some changes to your normal digestive process.

  • You may not be able to tolerate solid foods for some time, meaning a liquid-only diet will be your norm until regular digestion returns
  • Issues absorbing the proper nutrients from your digested food may occur, resulting in you having to take a pancreatic enzyme to supplement your normal digestive processes


Sometimes, especially after a Whipple procedure, you may need to make permanent dietary changes to accommodate your new digestive process.  This may include having a small feeding tube for long periods of time to ensure adequate nutrition is received, eating smaller and more frequent meals, and planning your meals to have the correct amount of calories to prevent extreme weight loss, which is another serious and very common post pancreatic surgery complication.


2. Gastric Ileus

In addition to related to the digestive process as a whole, you might experience a more specific   Also known as a temporary paralysis of the stomach, this digestive issue delays the emptying of your stomach contents through the digestive system and causes symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn


This complication can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of your pancreatic surgery and your individual recovery time.


3. Anastomotic Leak

This is one of the most serious post pancreatic surgery complications and is very common after a Whipple procedure.  When the section between the bowels or liver and pancreas do not heal properly post-surgery, there is the potential for contents that flow through to leak out into the surrounding tissue.

This complication is so serious because if the pancreatic enzymes within the pancreas seep out into nearby tissue, the enzymes can damage the tissue.  Though this complication usually heals itself, it often requires a prolonged hospital stay and may even require a second surgery.


4. Chyle Leak

Another common leak that patients experience post-pancreatic surgery is a chyle leak.  Chyle is a fluid that tends to build up in the stomach after a surgery or severe injury.  This can become serious enough to require a drain in the abdominal area until it clears up, thus turning a short hospital stay into a very long one.


5. Bleeding or Blood Clots

It is not unusual to have some excessive bleeding after any type of operation.  However, you could have a blood vessel that is leaking or a problem with your blood clotting properly that may cause concern post-operatively.  Additionally, if you develop any internal infections or fistulas, you may experience an unusual amount of excessive bleeding that will need treatment right away.

On the other hand, you may also be at risk for developing a blood clot because surgery often limits the amount of movement, and thus blood flow, throughout your body.  A blood clot that comes loose and travels throughout your bloodstream can easily become stuck.  If this blockage is in your lung, you could end up with respiratory failure, which can lead to death.


6. Chest Infections

A chest infection is a common complication after any surgery.  This happens because your body is not moving around enough and you are not breathing as deeply as you should, especially during the surgery itself.  This leads to a buildup of mucus in your lungs and can later turn into a severe infection.  This is prevented by close hospital monitoring, deep breathing exercises post-surgery, and minimal movements to get things flowing in your body as soon as possible.


In the end, several post pancreatic surgery complications can affect your recovery time and even affect your health later on in life.  It is important you see an exceptional pancreatic surgeon, such as Dr. Fraiman to avoid these complications as best as possible.

Moreover, if you use a pancreatic doctor like Dr. Fraiman, who has years of experience dealing with post-pancreatic surgery complications, you will be able to rest assured that should you develop a complication, you will be cared for in the most effective way possible by both him and his interdisciplinary team.

If you are in need of a pancreatic surgeon and live in Maryland, contact Dr. Fraiman today and see how he can help you with your pancreatic cancer surgical treatment.