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Pancreas Transplant

A pancreas transplant is surgery to implant a healthy pancreas from a donor into a person whose pancreas no longer functions well, usually because of severe diabetes.

Severe type I diabetes is often associated with chronic renal (kidney) failure. As a result, a person who needs a pancreas transplant also may need a kidney transplant. There are three kinds of pancreas transplant operations, including:

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  • Combined kidney-pancreas transplant, in which a pancreas and kidney are transplanted during the same operation
  • "Pancreas after kidney" transplant, in which the pancreas is transplanted some time after a kidney has been transplanted
  • Pancreas transplant alone, in which only the pancreas is transferred; this is for patients with functioning kidneys.

Who Is a Candidate for a Pancreas Transplant?

A team of specially trained staff evaluates a person to determine whether he or she is a good candidate for a pancreas transplant. Typically only people with severe diabetes, usually type I or juvenile-onset diabetes, are considered.

If the person is considered a suitable pancreas transplant candidate, he or she will be placed on a waiting list. The evaluating team considers many factors in deciding whether a person should be placed on the waiting list for a transplant. The person's general health and suitability for major surgery are taken into account. Pancreas transplants are not performed on people with certain conditions, including:

  • Untreatable cancers
  • Infections that cannot be completely treated or cured, such as tuberculosis
  • Severe heart, lung, or liver problems or complications from diabetes that would make the operation too risky

What Happens During Pancreas Transplant Surgery?

During pancreas transplant surgery, a donated pancreas is transplanted into the recipient, whose failed pancreas is not removed. The pancreas must be transplanted into the patient receiving the organ within hours after removing it from the donor. A team of surgeons and anesthesiologists performs an operation to remove the pancreas from the donor. Additional surgical teams may be present to remove other organs, such as kidneys.

Life Following Pancreas Transplant Surgery

After pancreas transplant surgery, anti-rejection drugs are prescribed to prevent the recipient's immune system from rejecting the new organ. A person who is considering a transplant must be willing to take anti-rejection medicines for life. The transplant candidate also must be willing to have lifelong follow-up checks by health care professionals.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 27, 2015

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