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Doc Talk | When it comes to Pancreatic Cancer, the whipple is a force to be reckoned with

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Pancreatic cancer is a serious and aggressive form of cancer, and the surgery for it is complicated. It's called the "whipple." Though intense, it's more readily available at Holy Spirit Hospital than it has been in the past.

The whipple is usually done after a CAT scan and ultrasound have been done to find the tumor. It's a procedure that requires several doctors, but since Holy Spirit and Geisinger merged, doing a whipple just got a lot easier.

Statistically, the whipple is a force to be reckoned with.

"The surgery nationally is a fairly successful operation. Mortalities are usually less than 5% and complications are usually less than 20%," said Geisinger Surgery Institute Chair Dr. Mo Shabahang.

Whipples are typically performed on people with a pancreatic lesion or who are suffering from pancreatic cancer. Those more at risk for this type of cancer are middle-aged or older with a family history of pancreatic problems or are smokers. Some may start chemotherapy before the surgery. Some do it after. But up until recently, the surgery hadn't been done much at all at Holy Spirit Hospital. Now that's changed.

"It really has been the joining of these teams plus our gastroenterology colleagues that’s enabled us to do these procedures here more locally," said Dr. Shabahang.

Doctors at Holy Spirit say it's a good move, explaining that it allows for patients to get better, more complete care in one place.

"The patients appreciate the fact that their families don’t have to travel to visit them and that they don’t have to spend a week or 10 days in a hospital that’s far away from home," said Holy Spirit surgeon Dr. Bret DeLone.

"We can do this operation at this hospital without patients having to go to other locations to get their care," said Dr. Shabahang.

The whipple lasts about five hours, but doctors say there have been days when they've done two in one day.

If pancreatic cancer is in your family, talk to your doctor about your risk factors.

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