Surgery for Pancreatic Cysts

MSK Surgeon Peter Allen

With surgery, our doctors can effectively remove a pancreatic cyst. Depending on exactly where the cyst is located as well as how big it is, we may recommend open surgery, laparoscopic surgery, or robot-assisted surgery.

Whichever approach we recommend, our primary goal is to remove all of the affected area while preserving your digestive function. This means we strive to keep intact your body’s ability to convert food into essential nutrients and get rid of waste.

Studies show that surgical outcomes are better for people who are treated at a facility that does a relatively high number of pancreas operations. MSK surgeons are among the most experienced in the world.

Depending on results from your imaging tests and other information about your diagnosis, a pathologist may be present at your operation to look for any signs that the disease has spread. If he or she finds any, a medical oncologist specializing in treating pancreatic cancer will work with you and your treatment team to create a plan specific to you.

Surgical Techniques for Pancreatic Cysts

Our team will recommend a surgical approach based on your needs. This may include open surgical procedures such as:

Whipple Procedure

Named after a surgeon who worked at MSK in the 1940s, the Whipple Procedure (also known as pancreatoduodenectomy) is used to remove cysts in the head of the pancreas. In this approach, surgeons remove not only the head of the pancreas but also part of the small intestine, the lower half of the bile duct, the surrounding lymph nodes, the gallbladder, and sometimes part of the stomach.

If the surgeon doesn’t remove part of the stomach, the procedure is called a pylorus-preserving Whipple procedure. The stomach, bile duct, and remaining part of the pancreas are joined to the small intestine so you can digest food normally.

Distal Pancreatectomy

When the cyst is located in the tail or left part of the pancreas, surgeons may perform a distal pancreatectomy with splenectomy and remove the tumor by taking out the tail of the pancreas, and in most cases the spleen.  

Total Pancreatectomy

Your treatment team may recommend a total pancreatectomy, in which we remove the whole pancreas, if the cyst has affected many parts of it. We do this because removing only part of the pancreas would risk leaving cancerous cells in the part of the organ left behind. After this operation, people need to take insulin and pancreatic enzymes for the rest of their lives. We work closely with MSK’s endocrinology team to help you adapt to this lifestyle change. 

Minimally Invasive Surgical Techniques

Our surgeons have been leaders in adopting minimally invasive surgical approaches to treat pancreatic cysts. We specialize in two state-of-the-art techniques: laparoscopy and the da Vinci® Surgical System. Both may improve the time it takes you to recover, reduce complications, and lessen the amount of time you spend in the hospital.

  • Laparoscopy: Your surgeon inserts a thin, lighted tube with a video camera at its tip (a laparoscope) through a tiny incision in the abdominal wall, then operates through this small opening with special instruments.
  • Robotic Surgery: Using the Da Vinci® Surgical System helps the surgeon provide precise, quality treatment and can help decrease pain and recovery time after surgery.