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Pancreatic trauma is uncommon, but carries high morbidity and mortality rates, especially when diagnosis is delayed or inappropriate surgery is attempted. Although the retroperitoneal position of the pancreas confers it some immunity to injury, the force required to do so often results in severe associated injuries to other organs, which may be life threatening. Diagnosis may be difficult and surgery can be a considerable technical challenge.


All patients with pancreatic trauma who attended one of three Melbourne teaching hospitals from 1977 to 1998 were identified. Injuries were graded and the method of diagnosis and treatment studied. The incidence and causation of postoperative morbidity and mortality was identified.


Thirty-eight patients (26 men and 12 women) were studied. Blunt trauma was responsible in 30 patients, stab wounds in five, gunshot wounds in two and iatrogenic injury in one. Injuries to other organs occurred in 30 patients. Surgical procedures were undertaken in 34 patients, resulting in the death of five and complications in 25.


Complications and death are related to the associated injuries, as much as to the pancreatic injury itself. In this study, we review the experience of the management of pancreatic trauma in three large teaching hospitals in Melbourne over a 21-year period, and suggest a strategy for dealing with these difficult patients. Adherence to the basic concepts of control of bleeding from associated vascular injury, minimization of contamination, accurate pancreatic assessment, judicious resection and adequate drainage can diminish the risk. By approaching the problem in a systematic way and adopting a generally conservative management plan, complications and deaths can be minimized in these complex cases.

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