KNOXVILLE, TN  – General Surgeon, Dr. David Harrell of Premier Surgical Associates, is among the first surgeons in Tennessee -and the first in East Tennessee to perform robotic-assisted surgery for pancreatic cancer. The Whipple procedure, also known as a  pancreaticoduodenectomy, is a complex operation most often performed to remove a cancerous growth from the pancreas—the organ that aids digestion and helps control blood sugar levels.

Dr. David Harrell and the da Vinci Robotic Surgery System

David Harrell, M.D., performed the first Whipple procedure using the da Vinci robotic surgical system in March at Physicians Regional Medical Center. Dr. Harrell, is chairman of the department of surgery at Tennova Healthcare’s Knoxville metro hospitals (Physicians Regional Medical Center, North Knoxville Medical Center and Turkey Creek Medical Center), has received extensive training in the use of robotic technology. He has performed more than 350 robotic-assisted abdominal surgeries, including colon, gallbladder, and gastrointestinal tract procedures as well as hiatal hernia repair.

“Pancreatic cancer is an aggressive disease that develops in the tissues of the pancreas and typically spreads rapidly to nearby organs,” Dr. Harrell said. “Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of these. For some patients, the Whipple procedure is curative, which means the entire tumor is removed with clear margins and no further cancer treatments are required.”

Dr. David Harrell, General Surgeon

According to Dr. Harrell, the complicated Whipple procedure involves removal of the “head” of the pancreas, the gallbladder, the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine), a portion of the bile duct, and sometimes part of the stomach. The surgeon then reconstructs the digestive tract.

Robotic-assisted surgery refers to minimally invasive procedures that utilize robotic technology and 3D imaging. The controls and surgical tools are guided by the surgeon. The robotic surgical system allows physicians to operate through smaller incisions, resulting in less pain and scarring.

Traditional open surgery for pancreatic cancer involves a wide incision (8 to 10 inches or longer). Patients of the robotic technique experience five tiny incisions.

“Although the outcomes are equivalent,” Dr. Harrell said, “the less invasive approach may result in a faster recovery, less pain, less blood loss, less inflammation, and fewer pain medications. A quicker recovery also means that patients are able to begin chemotherapy or radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment plan much sooner than those who undergo the open procedure.”

Dr. Harrell noted that the first patient to receive the robotic-assisted Whipple operation in Knoxville was out of bed and walking on the day after surgery. The patient was discharged from the hospital after seven days, and is doing well.

“We are fortunate to have the latest technology and a talented team at Tennova. The Robotic surgical team is excellent and this surgery was only possible as a team effort,” Dr. Harrell said. “For our patients, that means access to high quality medical and surgical care.”

Dr. David Harrell is a General Surgeon at Premier Surgical’s Tennova North Knoxville location. He performs procedures at Physicians Regional Medical Center, North Knoxville Medical Center and Premier Surgical Papermill.

For more information about Premier Surgical at North Knoxville Medical Center call (865) 938-8121. Visit our General Surgery web page for listing of all Premier Surgical surgeons and locations.