In the 1970’s, pancreatic cancer and the Whipple procedure were subjects of morbid interest.
No other common cancer had poorer prognosis and more than 15% of patients who underwent a Whipple procedure died during or after surgery.
Those times are long gone now.
Improvements to the Whipple Procedure Survival Rate
Scientific research and modern technology have improved surgical techniques, anesthesia and the quality of postoperative care. Procedure mortality has decreased greatly into a low single digit 5%.
Studies have shown that results are better at hospitals where Whipple procedures are done more often. Apparently, the health care quality and treatment outcomes are improved when complex surgeries and treatments are done in high volumes.
Another factor to consider for the Whipple procedure is the surgeon performing the procedure. The same commonsensical theory applies: the more procedures the surgeon performs, the lower the mortality rate and the higher the survival rates are. These are the reasons why patients are steered to specialized centers and surgeons with expertise in the field.
Impediments to Whipple Procedure Success
Even with the best surgeons and at the best hospitals, cancer cells may escape the pancreas and migrate to other parts of the body. These can remain undetected by diagnostic procedures before, during or immediately after the surgery, and eventually grow into new fatal cancers. This is why patients are advised to undergo treatment with radiation or chemotherapy.
At present, patients with untreated pancreatic cancer only have 6% 5-year survival rate. With the invention of modern equipment and refined techniques, the Whipple procedure survival rate increased the 5-year survival rate into 20%.
For patients whose cancer is limited to the head of the pancreas only, and where it is not spread to lymph nodes, have a higher 5-year survival rate at 40%.