Background. Pancreatic islet cell tumors (ICTs) can be treated by enucleation or pancreatic resection. We reviewed our experience with ICTs in the head of the pancreas to define indications for enucleation versus pancreaticoduodenectomy. Methods. Between January 1982 and December 1997, 48 patients underwent surgical resection for presumed ICTs of the pancreatic head. Of these, 18 were found on pathologic examination to be disease in a lymph node. Thirty patients had 32 true pancreatic head ICTs. We reviewed the operative results and postoperative courses in these patients. Results. Mean diameter of the ICTs was 15 mm. Twenty-seven patients (90%) underwent successful enucleations. Three patients failed enucleation and underwent pancreaticoduodenectomy. There was no operative mortality. The median time to regular diet was 7 days. The median time to removal of all drains was 22 days. The most common complication was pancreatic fistula (15%). No patient required reoperation for treatment of a fistula. Conclusion. Most ICTs of the pancreatic head can be removed with enucleation, preserving pancreatic tissue and avoiding the morbidity of pancreaticoduodenectomy. The primary indication for pancreaticoduodenectomy is not the size of the lesion but its proximity to the pancreatic duct.
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