Robotic Surgery Offers Quick Recovery for Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Pancreatic cancer has one of the poorest survival rates of common cancers; only five percent of patients live five years after diagnosis. For some pancreatic patients, however, a minimally invasive surgery known as the Whipple procedure can extend that prognosis to a five-year survival rate of 20 percent.

The Whipple procedure (also known as a pancreaticoduodenectomy) is the most common surgery for completely removing tumors from the pancreas. During this procedure, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas, lymph nodes near the bile duct, the duodenum, part of the stomach and the gallbladder.

After the surgery, bile from your liver, food from your stomach, and digestive juices from the remaining part of your pancreas all enter your small intestine, so you can have normal digestion.

W. Charles Conway, MD, Surgical Oncologist at Ochsner Medical Center, recently performed the first totally robotic pancreaticoduodenectomy for pancreatic cancer in Louisiana. This complex operation traditionally requires a large abdominal incision, but with the new technology, Dr. Conway performed the procedure in a minimally invasive fashion, with small incisions, all while maintaining the principles of cancer surgery. Benefits of this laparoscopic procedure include less blood loss, a shorter hospital stay, a quicker recovery and fewer complications.

"Robotic surgery has allowed us to offer very complex pancreatic operations in a minimally invasive fashion,” says Dr. Conway. “We are able to perform the same operation through small incisions to reduce wound pain, hasten recovery and improve quality of life. Since the internal operation does not change, cancer outcomes are equivalent to traditional open surgery."

Learn more about risks for pancreatic cancer and other diseases of the pancreas here.