A pancreatic stent is a small tube that is inserted into the pancreatic duct to allow materials to drain. There are a number of reasons why a stent may be recommended, and it can be placed by a surgeon or an endoscopic specialist. Patients may have a choice between a temporary plastic stent and a permanent metal one, and they should discuss all options, along with their risks and benefits, before deciding on which type would be most suitable.
One reason to place a stent in the pancreas is to remove an obstruction. Stenting can keep the pancreatic duct open to express stones, growths, and other obstructions that may be present. Surgeons can also enter the pancreas through a stent to perform one of several procedures. Stents may be inserted in other cases to ensure that bile can drain freely from the organ. A common reason that a stent could be required for drainage is in cases of pancreatic cancer, which can block the bile duct and cause the substance to build up. This leads to jaundice and can cause pain and discomfort for the patient.
Pancreatic duct stenting can also be used for patients with pancreatic divisum. In people with this congenital condition, the pancreatic ducts fail to fuse during development into a common duct, so the stent is used for drainage. Stenting may also be used in the treatment of pancreatic fistulas, in which an opening is formed in the pancreas where one should not be. The pancreatic stent can bypass the fistula to allow the pancreas to drain safely.
Insertion of a stent can be performed endoscopically. In the procedure, the patient may be sedated and given local, regional, or general anesthetic. The surgeon can make small incisions to insert an endoscope to see the pancreas, or can advance the endoscope through the digestive tract via the mouth, along with the necessary tools, including the stent. The stent is carefully placed and checked, and then the incision is closed or the endoscope removed.
When a surgeon recommends stenting, patients should ask why the procedure is being recommended and what the planned outcome of the procedure is. It can also be a good idea to ask about how long the stent needs to remain in place, what the risks of infection and other complications are, and how the stent will be inserted, as there are various approaches possible. There may be situations in which a person is not a good candidate for surgery or stenting, and patients should make sure that their doctors are familiar with their complete medical histories so that any risk factors can be identified.