OBJECTIVE: This single-institution experience retrospectively reviews the outcomes of patients undergoing reexploration for periampullary carcinoma at a high-volume center. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Many patients are referred to tertiary centers with periampullary carcinoma after their tumors were deemed unresectable at previous laparotomy. In carefully selected patients, tumor resection is often possible; however, the perioperative results and long-term outcome have not been well defined. METHODS: From November 1991 through December 1997, 78 patients who underwent previous exploratory laparotomy and/or palliative surgery for suspected periampullary carcinoma underwent reexploration. The operative outcome, resectability rate, pathology, and long-term survival rate were compared with 690 concurrent patients who had not undergone previous exploratory surgery. RESULTS: Fifty-two of the 78 patients (67%) undergoing reexploration underwent successful resection by pancreaticoduodenectomy; the remaining 26 patients (34%) were deemed to have unresectable disease. Compared with the 690 patients who had not undergone recent related surgery, the patients in the reoperative group were similar with respect to gender, race, and resectability rate but were significantly younger. The distribution of periampullary cancers by site in the reoperative group undergoing pancreaticoduodenectomy (n = 52) was 60%, 19%, 15%, and 6% for pancreatic, ampullary, distal bile duct, and duodenal tumors, respectively. These figures were similar to the 65%, 14%, 16% and 5% for resectable periampullary cancers found in the primary surgery group (n = 460). Intraoperative blood loss and transfusion requirements did not differ between the two groups. However, the mean operative time was 7.4 hours in the reoperative group, significantly longer than in the control group. On pathologic examination, reoperative patients had smaller tumors, and the percentage of patients with positive lymph nodes in the resection specimen was significantly less. The incidence of positive margins was similar between the two groups. Postoperative lengths of stay, complication rates, and perioperative mortality rates were not higher in reoperative patients. The long-term survival rate was similar between the two resected groups, with a median survival of 24 months in the reoperative group and 20 months in those without previous exploration. CONCLUSIONS: These data demonstrate that patients undergoing reoperation for periampullary carcinoma have similar resectability, perioperative morbidity and mortality, and long-term survival rates as patients undergoing initial exploration. The results suggest that selected patients considered to have unresectable disease at previous surgery should undergo restaging and reexploration at specialized high-volume centers.