Treatment of pancreatic cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. The Whipple procedure is the most common surgical treatment for cancers involving the head of the pancreas. This procedure involves removing the pancreatic head and the curve of the duodenum together (pancreato-duodenectomy), making a bypass for food from stomach to jejunum (gasto-jejunostomy) and attaching a loop of jejunum to the cystic duct to drain bile (cholecysto-jejunostomy). It can only be performed if the patient is likely to survive major surgery and if the cancer is localized without invading local structures or metastasizing. It can therefore only be performed in the minority of cases.
Spleen-preserving distal pancreatectomy can also be used as a method to remove a cancer running through centre of pancreas; this is invasive surgery, resulting in loss of body and tail. Cancers of the tail of the pancreas can be resected using a procedure known as a distal pancreatectomy.
After surgery, ''adjuvant'' chemotherapy with gemcitabine has in several large randomized studies been shown to significantly increase the 5-year survival (from approximately 10 to 20%), and should be offered if the patient is fit after surgery (Oettler et al. JAMA 2007, Neoptolemos et al. NEJM 2004, Oettler et al. ASCO proc 2007) . There is a study being done currently by Washington University that is using interferon to treat the cancer, and it has boosted survival times somewhat further. Addition of radiation therapy is a hotly debated topic, with groups in the US often favoring the use of adjuvant radiation therapy, while groups in Europe do not, due to the lack of any large randomized studies to show any survival benefit of this strategy.
Surgery can be performed for palliation, if the malignancy is invading or compressing the duodenum or colon. In that case, bypass surgery might overcome the obstruction and improve quality of life, but it is not intended as a cure., a recently published study ECOG 6201 failed to show superiority of GEMOX over gemcitabine alone (Poplin et al, JCO 2009, Louvet et al. JCO 2005). Fluorouracil (5FU) may also be included, however no large randomized study has shown significant survival benefit from this addition (Berlin et al. JCO 2002). One sofar unpublished trial has shown a significant benefit from adding capecitabine to gemcitabine (Cunningham et al. ASCO proc 2005),
On the basis of a Canadian led Phase III Randomised Controlled trial involving 569 patients with advanced pancreatic cancer, the US FDA has licensed the use of erlotinib (Tarceva) in combination with gemcitabine as a palliative regimen for pancreatic cancer. This trial compared the action of gemcitabine/erlotinib vs gemcitabine/placebo and demonstrated improved survival rates, improved tumor response and improved progression-free survival rates(Moore et al. JCO 2005). The survival improvement with the combination is on the order of less than four weeks, leading some cancer experts to question the incremental value of adding erlotinib to gemcitabine treatment. New trials are now investigating the effect of the above combination in the adjuvant and neoadjuvant setting. A trial of anti-angiogenesis agent bevacizumab (Avastin) as an addition to chemotherapy has shown no improvement in survival of patients with advanced pancreatic cancer (Kindler et al.). It may cause higher rates of high blood pressure, bleeding in the stomach and intestine, and intestinal perforations.
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