Total pancreatectomy involves removal of the entire pancreas as well as the gallbladder, common bile duct, portions of the small intestine and stomach and possibly the spleen. The surgery may be considered in some cases of pancreatic cancer and is more often considered to help chronic pancreatitis patients whose symptoms - potentially nausea, vomiting, dehydration and piercing pain - have not subsided after other treatments.
Inflammation and even treatments can cause damage, scarring and heightened sensitivity in the pancreas, in which case its removal may be the best option.
For chronic pancreatitis patients, the surgery offers potential pain relief, decreased dependency on narcotic pain medication and improved quality of life. Yet because of the important roles that the pancreas plays in digesting food and regulating blood sugar, there are issues that have to be resolved after its removal.
Anyone whose pancreas is taken out will be required to take a mixture of digestive enzymes that otherwise would have been manufactured by the pancreas. Likewise, patients may need to compensate for the loss of insulin once produced by the pancreatic islet cells by taking insulin daily for the rest of their lives.
MUSC has several gastrointestinal surgeons with extensive experience in pancreatic surgery, including total pancreatectomy. And for those patients who do not have cancer, MUSC can preserve the insulin-producing islet cells from the pancreas and transplant them into the liver, where the islet cells can continue to produce hormones such as insulin that help regulate blood sugar levels (islet autotransplantation).
MUSC has a team of dieticians and other support staff who are specially trained to help guide you through recovery and the potential changes that your body will go through as a result of the pancreatectomy.