Are Pancreas Transplants An Option For Pancreatic Cancer Patients?

Written By Tony Subia
October 2020

NO. This is an often asked question since most people are aware that kidney and liver, as well as other organ transplants are common. So why not the 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 not cure the cancer for several reasons. Pancreatic cancer has very vague symptoms, if any all. By the time it is discovered, it has most often already spread to surrounding tissue or it has metastasized to distant organs, so the cancer has already invaded parts of the body via the blood or lymph system. In fact. only about 11% of cases are diagnosed while the cancer is still contained completely within the pancreas.

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

If the cancerous tumor is still contained within the pancreas when diagnosed and it has not spread, only the portion of the pancreas containing the cancerous tumor is removed. When the tumor is contained in the head of the pancreas, it generally requires Whipple Surgery, With the whipple procedure, the surgeon removes the head of the pancreas , the gall bladder, the duodenum (which is the first part of the small intestine), a portion of the stomach and surrounding lymph nodes.

When those components that enable digestion to take place are removed, the surgeon reconnects the digestive system. The Whipple Procedure is a complex surgery that generally takes 5-7 hours to complete and usually requires a hospital stay of about 8-10 days.

Pancreas Transplants Are Only Considered For Chronic Cases of Type 1 Diabetes

A pancreas transplant is an option for Chronic Type 1 Diabetes patients who are vulnerable to other serious complications including kidney disease and kidney failure. If a kidney transplant is determined to be a necessary option, the existing pancreas is left in its same place. The new transplanted pancreas is attached to blood vessels in an adjacent location.

This is because the pancreas has two functions. It not only produces hormones including insulin which controls blood sugar, it produces enzymes which are essential to digestion. If the new transplanted pancreas is rejected by the recipient or does not function properly after the transplant, digestive enzymes and insulin may be produced in minimal quantity by the original pancreas which was left in place.

Those people with Type 1 Diabetes who are possible candidates for a pancreas implant are very carefully screened beforehand to make sure they do not have and type of 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. However, those with pancreatic cancer are never eligible for a pancreas transplant.

Summary of Why Pancreatic Cancer Patients Are Ineligible For Pancreas Transplants

A transplant is unlikely to cure the cancer

One of the biggest hurdles associated with fighting pancreatic cancer is the fact that it often goes undiagnosed for quite some time. In most cases, the cancer has already spread beyond the pancreas prior to a patient’s diagnosis, at which point a transplant would prove worthless. Only about 11% of pancreatic cases are diagnosed while the cancer is still confined to the pancreas. Even if doctors uncover a pancreatic cancer patient’s tumor before it has spread beyond the pancreas, the standard of care involves only removing the afflicted part of the organ, and not the entire pancreas.

A transplant would suppress the immune system

Even though pancreatic cancer patients are not eligible for a pancreas transplant, if they were eligible, patients would be required to take anti-rejection medication and it would suppress the immune system which would cause the cancer to spread and grow at a more rapid than it would otherwise.

A transplant would likely cause other harmful side effects

Even if a pancreatic cancer patient’s body did not reject a new transplanted pancreas, the odds of side effects and complications are high. Pancreas transplant recipients run the risk of experiencing blood clots, infections, hyperglycemia and urinary complications, among others.


Information withing this website is intended exclusively as educational advice only.. Always consult with your own expert doctors medical providers for any medical issue. We provide information only as awareness so that readers can be vigilant for symptoms. In this case, all content is intended as informational purposes only about whether or or not pancreas implants are considered for pancreatic cancer patients.

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