Aim: To determine the early and late morbidity and mortality after surgical treatment of chronic pancreatitis.
Methods: We determined long-term outcome and early and late morbidity and mortality, respectively, in 484 consecutive patients undergoing surgery for chronic pancreatitis from 1976 through 1997. Sixty-five percent of the patients had small duct disease (main pancreatic duct <7 mm), whereas 35% had large duct disease. Indications for operation were pain (95%), suspicion of malignancy (28%), and complications involving adjacent organs (35%). Pseudocysts were present in 27% of patients. Hospital morbidity (8 vs 23%, p = 0.0002) and mortality (0 vs 1.9%, p = 0.12) were less after drainage procedures (n = 162) than after pancreatic resections (n = 286). Among resectional procedures, total pancreatectomy had the highest 30-d operative mortality (5%) and morbidity rates (47%), followed by pancreatoduodenectomy (3 and 32%, respectively). The best results with pain relief occurred after proximal pancreatic resection (89% after mean follow-up of 6.5 yr). The number of patients able to function normally after surgical treatment increased from 39 to 79% (p < 0.001). Long-term survival of our patients was lower than expected rates based on Minnesota life tables analysis (p < 0.0001) especially in alcoholics. Patients undergoing a ductal drainage procedure had the longest survival, whereas those after total pancreatectomy had the shortest survival (p = 0.06). Pancreatic insufficiency, peptic ulcer, and/or anastomotic ulcers caused significant morbidity after total pancreatectomy and pancreatoduodenectomy. A small percentage (3%) developed pancreatic cancer.
Conclusions: Operative treatment of chronic pancreatitis, when indicated, can be performed safely with good results in terms of pain relief and quality of life. Resectional procedures (especially total pancreatectomy) are associated with higher early and late morbidity, greater perioperative mortality, and lower survival rates compared with drainage procedures. Abstinence from alcohol is associated with longer survival rates, which, however, still remain lower than expected rates.