The pancreas is a digestive system gland made up of two types of cells: one produces digestive juices and the other releases hormones to regulate blood sugar levels. The leaf-shaped gland is differentiated into the head, neck, body and tail regions. Inflammation, trauma and cancer of the pancreas usually require the removal of the pancreas. The surgical removal of the pancreas is known as pancreatectomy. There are different techniques of pancreatectomy depending on the region affected. Surgery that involves removing the tail and body of the pancreas while leaving the head of the pancreas intact is called distal pancreatectomy.
Distal pancreatectomy is usually recommended for treating pancreatic cancer, pancreatic pseudocysts (fluid-filled sac), chronic pancreatitis (inflammation) and traumatic injury.
Distal pancreatectomy may be performed by open procedure (through a large incision on the abdomen) or laparoscopically (through 2 to 3 small incisions and the use of a laparoscope or thin lighted tube with a camera). Once the pancreas is located, the body and tail are dissected and removed, leaving the head of the pancreas behind. If the adjoining blood vessels that supply the spleen are affected, the spleen is also removed. The cut end of the pancreatic duct and pancreatic head are closed with sutures to prevent leakage of digestive juices. Following distal pancreatectomy, you will be advised radiotherapy or chemotherapy to completely destroy any remaining cancer cells.
As with any procedure, distal pancreatectomy may involve certain risks and complications which include pancreatic juice leakage, bleeding, infection and blood clot formation.
After the tail and body is removed the head of the pancreas functions normally and produces digestive enzymes and hormones. Compared to the other forms of pancreatectomy, distal pancreatectomy is a shorter procedure that requires much less time for recovery.