Objective: To document the decreased incidence of surgical complications after pancreas transplantation in recent times.
Summary background data: Compared with other abdominal transplants, pancreas transplants have historically had the highest incidence of surgical complications. However, over the past few years, the authors have noted a significant decrease in the incidence of surgical complications.
Methods: The authors studied the incidence of early (<3 months after transplant) surgical complications (e.g., relaparotomy, thrombosis, infections, leaks) after 580 pancreas transplants performed during a 12-year period. Patients were analyzed and compared in two time groups: era 1 (June 1, 1985, to April 30, 1994, n = 367) and era 2 (May 1, 1994, to June 30, 1997, n = 213).
Results: Overall, surgical complications were significantly reduced in era 2 compared with era 1. The relaparotomy rate decreased from 32.4% in era 1 to 18.8% in era 2. Significant risk factors for early relaparotomy were donor age older than 40 years and recipient obesity. Recipients with relaparotomy had significantly lower graft survival rates than those without relaparotomy, but patient survival rates were not significantly different. A major factor contributing to the lower relaparotomy rate in era 2 was a significant decrease in the incidence of graft thrombosis; the authors believe this lower incidence is due to the routine use of postoperative low-dose intravenous heparin and acetylsalicylic acid. The incidence of bleeding requiring relaparotomy did not differ between the two eras. Older donor age was the most significant risk factor for graft thrombosis. The incidence of intraabdominal infections significantly decreased between the two eras; this decrease may be due to improved prophylaxis regimens in the first postoperative week.
Conclusions: Although a retrospective study has its limits, the results of this study, the largest single-center experience to date, show a significant decrease in the surgical risk associated with pancreas transplants. Reasons for this decrease are identification of donor and recipient risk factors, better prophylaxis regimens, refinements in surgical technique, and improved immunosuppressive regimens. These improved results suggest that more widespread application of pancreas transplantation is warranted.