Keyhole Surgery for Pancreatic Tumor

by | May 7, 2024 | General Surgery

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Keyhole surgery, also known as minimally invasive surgery, for pancreatic tumors is a  complex and highly specialized field. Let us break down your queries to offer a clearer  understanding.

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1. When is High Tumor Marker CA 19-9 Dangerous? 

CA 19-9 is a tumor marker frequently used to monitor the progression or recurrence of  pancreatic cancer. Elevated CA 19-9 levels might suggest the presence of pancreatic  cancer, although this alone cannot confirm a diagnosis.  

Specifically for pancreatic tumors, a significant rise in CA 19-9 levels could imply an advanced stage of cancer or a substantial tumor mass. But elevated CA 19-9 is not exclusive to pancreatic cancer and can occur in other conditions like obstructions in the bile duct or certain liver diseases. 

In the context of pancreatic tumors, “dangerous” levels of CA 19-9 are not strictly defined by a universal threshold. Instead, they are considered alongside other critical diagnostic indicators such as imaging test results, clinical symptoms, and the patient’s overall health status.  

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Very high levels of CA 19-9, especially when seen with corroborative evidence of tumor growth or spread on imaging studies, might indicate a challenging prognosis or the need for immediate and aggressive treatment strategies. However, the interpretation of CA 19-9 levels must be personalized, considering the unique aspects of each patient’s health and the specific characteristics of their tumor.

2. How to Decide if Pancreatic Tumor is Benign or Cancerous 

Determining the nature of a pancreatic tumor, and identifying it as benign or malignant requires a comprehensive diagnostic approach. 

Imaging Tests 

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): Delivers high-resolution images, delineating the pancreas and the tumor’s specifics—location, size, and possible involvement with surrounding tissues.

  • CT scans (Computed Tomography): Offers precise cross-sectional views, crucial for mapping the tumor’s dimensions, location, and proximity to vital blood vessels, which is pivotal for planning any surgical approach.

  • Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS): A fusion of endoscopy and ultrasound, this technique provides detailed images from within the gastrointestinal tract, allowing for the detection of even small tumors. EUS is particularly effective for guiding  the biopsy process.

  • PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography): Often combined with a CT scan (PET/CT), this test can detect the metabolic activity of the cells. Highly active areas, indicative of cancer cells, absorb more of the radioactive tracer used in PET scans, providing insights into the tumor’s behavior, and helping to identify metastatic disease.


  • EUS-Guided FNA (Fine-Needle Aspiration): By utilizing EUS for precise navigation, a fine needle is introduced directly into the pancreatic tumor to withdraw tissue or fluid samples. This targeted approach enhances the likelihood  of securing a meaningful sample for histopathological examination, offering a conclusive diagnosis of the tumor’s nature.

Blood Tests 

  • CA 19-9: This tumor marker’s elevated levels may indicate pancreatic cancer, particularly in people presenting with relevant symptoms or imaging abnormalities suggestive of a malignancy. Nevertheless, CA 19-9 levels can rise  in other conditions like pancreatitis and liver diseases, and not all pancreatic  cancers produce detectable CA 19-9.

  • Other Markers and Tests: Additional evaluations may include liver function tests, bilirubin levels (to check for jaundice), and other markers pertinent to the clinical scenario, assisting in assessing the systemic impact or complications stemming from the tumor.

3. Benefits of Laparoscopic or Da Vinci Robotic Surgery for Pancreatic Tumor 

Laparoscopic and da Vinci robotic surgeries are cutting-edge, minimally invasive techniques that have revolutionized the treatment of pancreatic tumors, offering an alternative to traditional open surgery. 

Both techniques share several advantages over traditional surgery, specifically tailored to pancreatic tumor removal: 

  • Reduced Pain and Quicker Recovery: Thanks to smaller incisions, patients experience less pain post-operation and enjoy a quicker recovery, returning to normal activities sooner.

  • Lower Infection Risk: The minimally invasive nature significantly lowers the risk of post-surgical infections.
  • Minimal Scarring: Smaller incisions mean less scarring, a cosmetic advantage important to many patients.

Not all pancreatic tumors are suitable for these techniques. The decision on whether to  use laparoscopic or da Vinci robotic surgery is influenced by the tumor size, location,  stage, and the patient’s overall health condition.

This article has been fact-checked by Dr Lee Lip Seng, general surgeon at LS Lee  Surgery, Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Singapore.

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