The pancreas is a flat pear-shaped gland located behind the stomach and next to the liver, small intestine and spleen. It is primarily responsible for (1) producing digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and (2) for secreting insulin and glucagon, hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels.
Disorders that affect the anatomical structure and function of the pancreas can lead to serious, long-term health problems, which include:
Characterized as the inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis is usually acute, occurring suddenly with symptoms lasting for days, or may be chronic, persisting for several years and eventually damaging the pancreas. It is caused by the activation of digestive enzymes while they are still in the pancreas. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. Untreated, pancreatitis can lead to diabetes, pseudocysts and infections.
In terms of treatment, surgery is usually performed to drain pancreatic collections and remove scar tissue from the pancreas. Cholecystectomy (removal of the gallbladder) may also be done if pancreatitis is caused by gallstones. For chronic pancreatitis, pancreatectomy surgery (removal of all or part of the pancreas) may be recommended.
These are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the pancreas. These cysts are often asymptomatic, and detected incidentally on imaging of the body. Pancreatic cysts can be benign, borderline cancerous or cancerous. This condition is typically detected via imaging tests, but in more serious cases, it can manifest itself through symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, back pain, or loss of weight.
Pancreatic cysts should be evaluated properly by an experienced pancreas surgeon as a fair number can be pre-cancerous or cancerous. Often times, the evaluation will require MRI scan or endoscopic ultrasound. Biopsies or needle aspiration of such cysts can be performed via endoscopy to confirm the nature of the cysts. If detected early, they may be removed through laparoscopic or robotic surgery.
Silent yet aggressive, pancreatic cancer usually does not show any symptoms until its latter stages when the cancer has already spread to nearby tissues and organs. The condition is also known for being more resistant to treatment, owing to thick stromal tissue that envelops the tumors.
Surgery offers the only curative treatment to treat pancreas cancer, and is usually combined with chemotherapy. However, the type and complexity of the procedure depend primarily on the cancer’s stage and location. Pancreaticoduodenectomy, more commonly known as the whipple procedure, is performed if the tumor is located at the head of the pancreas. During this treatment, the head of the pancreas, gallbladder, the first portion of the duodenum, and part of the bile duct will be removed. Part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes will be extracted as well. The remaining organs will then be reconnected to facilitate digestion.
Distal pancreatectomy surgery is performed if tumors are located on the pancreas’ body and tail. Here, these parts, along with the spleen, are surgically removed. Distal pancreatectomy can often be performed laparoscopically. If the cancer involves the whole pancreas, the entire organ may need to be removed. It’s possible to live without the pancreas, though the patient will need to take insulin shots and digestive enzyme pills to regulate blood sugar and facilitate normal digestion.
Digestive and Liver Surgery provides comprehensive and effective procedures to treat issues concerning the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and bile duct. Schedule an appointment today with our experienced pancreas cancer surgeon Dr. Victor Lee. For more information, call 6737-8878.
Senior Consultant Surgeon
MBBS (Singapore), FRCS (Edinburgh), MMed (Surgery), MSc (Bioinformatics),
FAMS (General Surgery)
With 20 years of surgical experience, Dr Lee is trained and skilled in using minimally invasive techniques for liver, pancreas, gallbladder and hernia procedures.
His busy practice aside, Dr Lee is actively involved in postgraduate teaching and workshops for junior surgeons, and is still actively involved in academic research at the National University of Singapore.
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