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A doctor explains distal pancreatectomy to a patient

A distal pancreatectomy procedure involves the removal of the tail and body of the pancreas, and sometimes the spleen (which is situated very close to the tail). The head of the pancreas, which is located nearest to the upper intestine and contains the main pancreatic duct into the duodenum, is preserved.

In some cases, a distal pancreatectomy can be performed through a minimally invasive technique known as laparoscopy. When performing a laparoscopic procedure, a surgeon will access the pancreas and spleen through a series of small incisions using specialized surgical instruments and a tiny camera.

A distal pancreatectomy may be recommended for treating:

  • Low-grade malignancies
  • Cystic tumors
  • Benign lesions
  • Neuroendocrine tumors
  • Physical damage to the pancreas caused by impact
  • Potentially cancerous lesions (pancreatic mucinous cystic neoplasms)

Depending on the location and pathology of a tumor, a distal pancreatectomy procedure can take approximately two to four hours to complete. If conservation of the spleen is planned, a surgeon will first close off the blood vessels that are shared between the pancreas and the spleen, and then isolate the appropriate area of the spleen for removal.

An accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment for pancreatic cancer are essential because, like many other forms of cancer, it can spread locally to blood vessels and nearby organs, such as the stomach and the small intestine. Cancer cells can also potentially break away and spread to distant sites, such as the liver, lungs and lymph nodes.

Despite these similarities, however, pancreatic cancer is comparatively rare, which means that many surgeons and cancer centers do not have extensive experience in treating the condition. One notable exception is Moffitt Cancer Center. Our surgeons treat many patients with pancreatic malignancies and are experienced in performing distal pancreatectomy operations and other procedures, including Whipple surgery. As a result, Moffitt offers a refined level of surgical expertise which directly translates to continually improving survival rates and better quality lives for our patients.

Medically reviewed by Jason Denbo, MD.

If you’d like to learn more about a distal pancreatectomy, Whipple surgery or other treatment options for pancreatic cancer, the experts at Moffitt can provide the information you need to make fully educated decisions about the right treatment for you. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.