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Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

  • Last Modified: 07/31/2014

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Treatment Option Overview for Pancreatic Cancer

Surgical resection remains the primary modality when feasible; on occasion, resection can lead to long-term survival and provides effective palliation.[1-3][Level of evidence: 3iA]

The role of postoperative therapy (chemotherapy with or without chemoradiation therapy) in the management of pancreatic cancer remains controversial because much of the randomized clinical trial data available are statistically underpowered and provide conflicting results.[4-8]

Complications of pancreatic cancer include the following:

  • Malabsorption: Frequently, malabsorption caused by exocrine insufficiency contributes to malnutrition. Attention to pancreatic enzyme replacement can help alleviate this problem. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Nutrition in Cancer Care for more information.)

  • Pain: Celiac axis and intrapleural nerve blocks can provide highly effective and long-lasting control of pain for some patients. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Pain for more information.)

The survival rate of patients with any stage of pancreatic exocrine cancer is poor. Clinical trials are appropriate alternatives for treatment of patients with any stage of disease and should be considered before palliative approaches are selected.

Information about ongoing clinical trials for pancreatic cancer is available from the NCI Web site.

Table 7. Treatment Options for Pancreatic Cancer
Stage (TNM Staging Criteria)  Treatment Options 
Stage I and stage II pancreatic cancerSurgery
Postoperative chemoradiation therapy
Postoperative chemotherapy
Stage III pancreatic cancerPalliative surgery
Chemoradiation therapy
Chemotherapy
Stage IV pancreatic cancerPalliative therapy
Chemotherapy
Recurrent pancreatic cancerPalliative therapy
Chemotherapy

References
  1. Yeo CJ, Cameron JL, Lillemoe KD, et al.: Pancreaticoduodenectomy for cancer of the head of the pancreas. 201 patients. Ann Surg 221 (6): 721-31; discussion 731-3, 1995.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Conlon KC, Klimstra DS, Brennan MF: Long-term survival after curative resection for pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Clinicopathologic analysis of 5-year survivors. Ann Surg 223 (3): 273-9, 1996.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Yeo CJ, Abrams RA, Grochow LB, et al.: Pancreaticoduodenectomy for pancreatic adenocarcinoma: postoperative adjuvant chemoradiation improves survival. A prospective, single-institution experience. Ann Surg 225 (5): 621-33; discussion 633-6, 1997.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Further evidence of effective adjuvant combined radiation and chemotherapy following curative resection of pancreatic cancer. Gastrointestinal Tumor Study Group. Cancer 59 (12): 2006-10, 1987.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Kalser MH, Ellenberg SS: Pancreatic cancer. Adjuvant combined radiation and chemotherapy following curative resection. Arch Surg 120 (8): 899-903, 1985.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  6. Klinkenbijl JH, Jeekel J, Sahmoud T, et al.: Adjuvant radiotherapy and 5-fluorouracil after curative resection of cancer of the pancreas and periampullary region: phase III trial of the EORTC gastrointestinal tract cancer cooperative group. Ann Surg 230 (6): 776-82; discussion 782-4, 1999.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Neoptolemos JP, Dunn JA, Stocken DD, et al.: Adjuvant chemoradiotherapy and chemotherapy in resectable pancreatic cancer: a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 358 (9293): 1576-85, 2001.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  8. Neoptolemos JP, Stocken DD, Friess H, et al.: A randomized trial of chemoradiotherapy and chemotherapy after resection of pancreatic cancer. N Engl J Med 350 (12): 1200-10, 2004.  [PUBMED Abstract]