Should I get a pancreas transplant for my diabetes?

Dr. Jack Merendino, MD

Pancreas transplantation is sometimes used to restore insulin production in type 1 diabetes. This is a major surgical procedure with a high risk of complications, so it is done only in those people whose blood sugar levels absolutely can't be controlled by other means.

The availability of organs is quite limited because they cannot be donated by a living person. We have only one pancreas and removing it causes serious problems. Even when a pancreas does become available from a deceased donor, there is a risk of rejection, as with all organ transplantation, so long-term success isn't guaranteed. In addition, the same autoimmune process that destroyed the insulin-producing beta cells in the person's own pancreas is likely to attack the cells in the transplanted pancreas.

The majority of people who undergo pancreas transplantation also have kidney failure and need a kidney transplant. The kidney transplant has a higher likelihood of success, and the same drugs are used to prevent rejection of both the transplanted kidney and pancreas.

Therefore, if a person needs a kidney transplant and there is a suitable pancreas available, it's much easier to justify the pancreas transplant than for someone who needs only the pancreas.

The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

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The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Bob Greene has helped millions of Americans become fit and healthy with his life-changing Best Life plan. Now, for the first time, Oprah's trusted expert on diet and fitness teams up with a leading...

A study has indicated that, for patients with functioning kidneys, survival rates of patients who receive pancreas-only transplants are worse than the survival rates of patients who manage their diabetes with conventional therapy (insulin, diet, etc.). Therefore, the decision to have a pancreas-only transplant should be very carefully considered by both the patient and physician. Because of the lower survival rates seen with pancreas-only transplants, and because a pancreas transplanted along with a kidney is less likely to fail than a pancreas transplanted alone, pancreas transplants are nearly always done only in people with type 1 diabetes who are getting or already have a transplanted kidney.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.