Skip to content

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Survival Worse After Pancreas Transplant

Risk of Death Greater After Pancreatic Transplant Alone Than on Current Diabetes Therapy
WebMD Health News

Dec. 2, 2003 -- People with severe type 1 diabetes may be better off on the pancreas transplant waiting list than actually getting the organ.

A new study shows that people with diabetes and normal kidney function who had a whole-organ pancreas transplant were more likely to die within the first four years after getting the transplant than those under conventional care on the transplant waiting list.

Researchers say whole-organ pancreas transplants are a treatment option for some people with advanced forms of type 1 diabetes in order to achieve normal sugar levels and reduce or eliminate their dependence on insulin shots. In people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin to meet the body's needs in order to regulate blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association recommends pancreas transplants only for people with type 1 diabetes who have had or need a kidney transplant or those patients with frequent episodes of extremely low blood sugars or extremely high blood sugar levels with a buildup of blood acids (known as ketoacidosis).

But researchers say pancreas transplantation alone remains a controversial option because of the high rate of complications, risk of death, and expense of the procedure and a lack of proven benefits in easing or reversing some of the health risks associated with diabetes.

Study Questions Value of Pancreas Transplants

In the study, researchers compared data obtained from 124 transplant centers in the U.S. on 11,572 people with type 1 diabetes who were on the transplant waiting list for a whole-organ pancreas.

After four years of follow up, researchers found that patients who had type 1 diabetes and normal kidney function, who received a pancreas transplant alone had a 57% higher risk of death compared with those on the waiting list receiving conventional therapy to treat their diabetes.

For example, survival rates for pancreas transplant alone recipients were 97% one year after the procedure and 85% after four years compared with survival rates of 98% and 92% among those on the pancreas alone transplant waiting list.

"Our data suggest that patients with complicated diabetes who are considering a solitary pancreas transplant must weigh the potential benefit of insulin independence against an apparent increase in mortality for at least the first four years posttransplantation," write research Jeffrey M. Venstrom, BS, of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, and colleagues.

"Benefits not accounted for in this analysis (e.g., improved quality of life) may justify pancreas transplantation, and it is possible that transplant recipients may show a survival advantage with longer-term follow-up," they write.

But even if that is true, researchers say it's hard to weigh the cost of an increased risk of death within the first four years after transplantation against a hypothetical survival advantage beyond those four years.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
Woman serving fast food from window
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
are battery operated toothbrushes really better

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture