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What to expect during and after Pancreatic Surgery

Pancreatic surgery is a major operation that can be used to treat pancreatic cancer or other conditions affecting the pancreas. What happens after surgery depends on the type of operation you have had. You usually stay in hospital for at least a week.

The most common type of pancreatic surgery is called Whipple surgery. During this procedure, your surgeon will remove the head, or right-hand portion, of the pancreas, where most tumors occur. Because of the location of this organ, he or she must also remove parts of the small intestine, gallbladder and bile duct.

After pancreatic surgery, it is normal to have difficulty eating or to experience nausea, vomiting or heartburn. These symptoms are caused by a condition known as "gastric ileus," or temporary paralysis of the stomach. It may take your digestive system anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to return to normal.

Although patients can leave the hospital after a few days or weeks, a full recovery from pancreas surgery can take two months or longer. During the first two months, you will require frequent hospital visits to review pathology and surgical reports. Incisions will be examined and staples and tubes will be removed.

Before your Whipple operation, your surgeon will explain to you what to expect before, during and after surgery including potential risks. Your treatment team will talk with you and your family about how your surgery will affect your quality of life.

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