Long-Term Results of Distal Pancreatectomy for Chronic Pancreatitis in 90 Patients

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To determine the indications for distal pancreatectomy for chronic pancreatitis and to evaluate the risks, functional loss, and outcome of the procedure.

Summary Background Data

Chronic pancreatitis is generally associated with continued pain, parenchymal and ductal hypertension. and progressive pancreatic dysfunction, and it is a cause of premature death in patients who receive conservative treatment. Good results have recently been reported by the authors and others for resection of the pancreatic head in this disease, but distal pancreatectomy is a less popular option attended by variable success rates. It remains a logical approach for patients with predominantly left-sided pancreatic disease, however.


A personal series of 90 patients undergoing distal pancreatectomy for chronic pancreatitis over the last 20 years has been reviewed, with a mean postoperative follow-up of 34 months (range 1–247). Pancreatic function was measured before and after operation in many patients.


Forty-eight of 84 patients available for follow-up had a successful outcome in terms of zero or minimal, intermittent pain. There was one perioperative death, but complications developed in 29 patients, with six early reexplorations. Morbidity was unaffected by associated splenectomy or right-to-left dissection. Late mortality rate over the follow-up period was 10%; most of these late deaths occurred because of failure to abstain from alcohol. Preoperative exocrine function was abnormal in two thirds of those tested and was unchanged at follow-up. Diabetic curves were seen in 10% of patients preoperatively, while there was an additional diabetic morbidity rate of 23% related to the procedure and late onset of diabetes (median duration 27 months) in another 23%. Diabetic onset was related to percentage parenchymal resection as well as splenectomy. Outcome was not clearly dependent on the etiology of pancreatitis or on disease characteristics as assessed by preoperative imaging. However, patients with pseudocyst disease alone did better than other groups. Twenty-one of 36 patients who failed to respond to distal pancreatectomy required further intervention, including completion pancreatectomy, neurolysis, and sphincteroplasty. Thirteen of these 21 patients achieved long-term pain relief after their second procedure.


Distal pancreatectomy for chronic pancreatitis from any etiology can be performed with low mortality and a good outcome in terms of pain relief and return to work in approximately 60% of patients. Little effect is seen on exocrine function of the pancreas, but there is a diabetic risk of 46% over 2 years. Pseudocyst disease is associated with the best outcome, but other manifestations of this disease, including strictures, calcification, and limited concomitant disease in the head of the pancreas, can still be associated with a good outcome.

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