Robotic Whipple to Help Pancreatic Cancer Patients

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer in the U.S. and the treatment can be brutal. However, doctors say advancements in robotic surgery can lessen the pain, speed up your recovery, and possibly improve your chances of survival. We show you why in this medical breakthrough.
Bob Dies never skips the chance to dance with his wife. Earlier this year, Bob was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and thought his dancing days might be over.
"It's the worst type of cancer," Bob Dies told Ivanhoe. 
Bob underwent a complex surgery called the Robotic Whipple procedure. His gallbladder and large portions of his stomach, pancreas, and small intestine were removed and the remaining pancreas and digestive organs were rebuilt and reconnected.
"That's why the operation is so complicated," Mokenge P. Malafa, MD, a Surgical Oncologist at the Moffitt Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe.
That's also why these two surgeons use this robot to get it done.
Dr. Malafa claims that, "This technology actually allows us to sometimes see better, to sew better, and to cut better with less trauma to the tissue."
They also make several small incisions instead of one big one.
"There were four spots essentially where the arms of the robot went into my body," Dies said.
These doctors say it leads to less pain, shorter hospital stays, faster recoveries, and "the wound infection rate is very low from this," Kenneth Meredith, MD, FACS, Assistant Member Surgery and Oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center, told Ivanhoe.
Bob says he was walking the day after surgery and is optimistic about a full recovery.
There are still side-effects to the surgery, including infection, bleeding, and trouble with the stomach emptying itself after meals. Not everyone is a candidate for this procedure, especially those who are obese and have had abdominal surgery before. Since this is a risky operation, the American Cancer Society says it's critical that you have the procedure done at a specialized institution and with doctors who have the most experience.


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BACKGROUND:  Heart transplants are performed when other treatments for heart problems haven't worked, leading to heart failure.  Heart failure can be caused by coronary artery disease, a weakening of the heart muscle, failure of a previous heart transplant, valvular heart disease, or congenital heart defect.  A heart transplant is not right for everyone.  Each case is considered individually by a transplant center.  A patient could be prevented from having a heart transplant if they are 65 or older, have another medical condition that could shorten their life, have a personal medical history of cancer, have serious blockages in the arteries in their arms or legs, or are unwilling or unable to make lifestyle changes necessary to keep the donor heart healthy.  Another option for people who can't have a transplant is a ventricular assist device (VAD).  It is a miniature pump implanted in their chest that helps pump blood through the body.  VADs are typically used as a temporary treatment for people waiting for a heart transplant.  (Source:

RISKS:  The most significant risk of having a heart transplant is the risk of the body rejecting the donor heart.  The immune system will see the donor heart as a foreign object.  It will try to attack the donor heart.  Although everyone who receives a heart transplant receives immunosuppressants, close to 25 percent of heart transplant recipients still have some signs of rejection during the first year after their operation.  Most of the time rejection doesn't cause any symptoms and requires only an adjustment of medications.  When there are symptoms that the body is rejecting the donor heart, they can include fever, shortness of breath, weight gain, not urinating frequently, and fatigue.  Other risks can include problems with the arteries, mediation side effects, cancer, and infection.  (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY:  The National Institutes of Health funded a groundbreaking multicenter study known as Late TIME (Transplantation in Myocardial Infarction Evaluation) to determine if a implanting a patient's own stem cells into the heart two to three weeks following a heart attack could help to safely and effectively improved cardiac function.  University researchers are also participating in a multicenter trial known as TIME, which is evaluating the success of the same stem cell therapy given three to seven days after the patient's heart attack.  "There is no doubt that in recent decades, we have continued to significantly improve treatments for patients who have had heart attacks. Despite this, their heart function doesn't recover as well as it should," Ganesh Raveendran, MD, MS, Director, Section of Interventional Cardiology & Cardiovascular Fellowship Program at The University of Minnesota Medical School, was quoted as saying. "Ultimately, we hope that cell therapy will improve cardiac outcomes and quality of life for these patients."  Each patient in the study will receive either injections of their own stem cells or a placebo injection during the implantation of a left ventricle assist device (LVADs).  The University's study was the first in the U.S. to examine the effects of stem cell therapy during LVAD placement.  One-third of the patients receive a placebo and two-thirds will receive their own stem cells.  If patients in the study eventually get a heart transplant, then researchers will examine their native hearts to determine whether bone marrow stem cells have grown into cardiac cells.  (Source:

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Ganesh Raveendran, MD, MS
Director, Section of Interventional Cardiology &
Cardiovascular Fellowship Program
University of Minnesota Medical School
(612) 625-7924

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