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Your pancreas is an organ that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. One of its main functions is to make insulin, a hormone that regulates the absorption of sugar (glucose) into your cells.
In some cases, pancreas transplants may also treat type 2 diabetes. Rarely, pancreas transplants may be used in the treatment of pancreatic, bile duct or other cancers.
A pancreas transplant is often done in conjunction with a kidney transplant in people whose kidneys have been damaged by diabetes.
A pancreas transplant can restore normal insulin production and improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes, but it’s not a standard treatment. The side effects of the anti-rejection medications required after a pancreas transplant can often be serious.
Doctors may consider a pancreas transplant for people with any of the following:
Pancreas transplant surgery carries a risk of significant complications, including:
After a pancreas transplant, you’ll take medications for the rest of your life to help prevent your body from rejecting the donor pancreas. These anti-rejection medications can cause a variety of side effects, including:
Other side effects may include:
Anti-rejection drugs work by suppressing your immune system. These drugs also make it harder for your body to defend itself against infection and disease.
If your doctor recommends a pancreas transplant, you’ll be referred to a transplant center. You’re also free to select a transplant center on your own or choose a center from your insurance company’s list of preferred providers.
When you consider transplant centers, you may want to:
Surgeons perform pancreas transplants with general anesthesia, so you will be unconscious during the procedure. The anesthesiologist or anesthetist gives you medication as a gas to breathe through a mask or injects a liquid medication into a vein.
After you’re unconscious:
The surgical team monitors your heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen throughout the procedure.
Pancreas transplant surgery usually lasts about three to six hours, depending on whether you are having a pancreas transplant alone or kidney and pancreas transplants at the same time.
After your pancreas transplant, you can expect to:
After a successful pancreas transplant, your new pancreas will make the insulin your body needs, so you’ll no longer need insulin therapy to treat type 1 diabetes.
But even with the best possible match between you and the donor, your immune system will try to reject your new pancreas.
To avoid rejection, you’ll need anti-rejection medications to suppress your immune system. You’ll likely take these drugs for the rest of your life. Because medications to suppress your immune system make your body more vulnerable to infection, your doctor may also prescribe antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal medications.
Following a pancreas transplant, patients no longer require insulin and can eat a normal diet with the expectation of normal blood sugar control. In the long run, this results in improvement or prevention of diabetic complications such as retinopathy (eye disease), neuropathy (nerve involvement) and vascular disease.
There are four primary approaches to pancreas transplant, the majority performed to treat people with Type 1 diabetes and end-stage kidney failure. All are performed at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Froedtert Hospital.
Risks associated with pancreas transplant include blood clots, bleeding, infection, hyperglycemia (excessive sugar in the blood), urinary complications, transplant failure and organ rejection. The incidence rates of these complications are small and are discussed with patients before surgery.
Pancreas transplant patients will need to take powerful antirejection medications the rest of their lives to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ. These drugs suppress the entire immune system, so it is harder for patients to resist infections and other diseases, such as cancer. Side effects of antirejection medications include bone thinning, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, skin sensitivity, puffiness, weight gain, swollen gums and excessive hair growth. Each patient’s care team will closely monitor his or her health throughout life and provide guidance to minimize or eliminate side effects.
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