Are Pancreas Transplants An Option For Pancreatic Cancer?

No. This is an often asked question since most people are aware that kidney, liver and heart transplants are common. So why not a pancreas? Although pancreas transplants are sometimes performed on patients with Type 1 Diabetes, patients with pancreatic cancer are not eligible for a pancreas transplant.

A pancreas transplant would likely not cure the cancer even with a transplant. If a cancerous tumor is discovered within the pancreas before it spreads to other organs, only the portion of the pancreas containing the tumor is removed via Whipple Surgery. Most often the cancer has spread beyond the pancreas before it is diagnosed.

Even if pancreas transplantation was an option for pancreatic cancer, the patient would have to take anti-rejection medication which would suppress the immune system. When the immune system is weakened, cancer cells would likely grow and spread at a more rapid pace.

Pancreas Transplants Are An Option For Type 1 Diabetes

They are an option for Chronic Type 1 Diabetes patients which are vulnerable to other serious complications including kidney disease and kidney failure. This is why a pancreas transplant is often performed along with a kidney transplant. In these cases the existing pancreas is left in its place

The new pancreas is attached to blood vessels in another location as well as to the small intestine. This is because the pancreas has two functions. It not only produces hormones like insulin to control blood sugar, and it also produces enzymes which are essential for digestion.

If the new pancreas is rejected by the recipient or it does not function properly after the transplant, digestive enzymes will not be produced if their original pancreas is not still in place, intact.

Recipients with Type 1 Diabetes who are possible candidates for a pancreas transplant are usually carefully screened beforehand to make sure they don’t have active cancer anywhere in their body. They must be cancer-free for at least two years or longer before the patient is eligible for a pancreas transplant.

How Successful Are Pancreas Transplants?

Pancreas transplants in people with type 1-diabetes have a good success rate. Over 80% of transplanted pancreases are still functional a year after the procedure. Surgery itself usually takes 3 to 6 hours, depending upon whether a kidney transplant is done at the same time. Most patients remain in the hospital for one to two weeks after the procedure where they require close monitoring for signs of pancreas rejection.