Investigators at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, have reported on a new approach to treating previously inoperable complex pancreatic adenocarcinoma that has significantly increased long-term survival for some patients. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the most devastating forms of pancreatic cancer with survival rates of only 5 percent at five years. Surgical removal of these tumors offers a chance for cure, but it is estimated that only about 20 percent of patients can undergo this treatment. The tumor in the pancreas often grows into adjacent vital blood vessels, and this is the most common reason a surgeon will consider pancreatic cancer to be inoperable and incurable. However, the MD Anderson investigators have achieved an important milestone in the surgical treatment of the disease in terms of improving prognosis for patients who meet the criteria for a newly developed protocol.
In a study published in the July issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, the investigators reported on 88 patients who had been told their tumors were inoperable after an initial surgical attempt at removal, 66 of whom completed a multidisciplinary treatment regimen with successful tumor removal. This approach has been refined at MD Anderson over the last 20 years and involves a more accurate and collaborative interpretation of CT scans of the tumor between surgeons and radiologists; chemotherapy and radiation treatment of the tumor; and finally an advanced approach to surgical resection with planned removal and reconstruction of involved vital blood vessels near the tumor.
"We've been able to achieve survival numbers for these patients that are comparable to those receiving surgery for clearly operable tumors," reported lead study author Jason B. Fleming, MD, FACS. On average, patients in this study lived about 30 months after tumor removal, which is almost three times longer than the 11 months for patients who are never able to have their tumors surgically removed.
The study enrolled high-risk patients who had been originally diagnosed at outside institutions with operable, localized cancer. However, at their initial operations the intent to remove the tumor was aborted when the disease turned out to be more extensive than originally detected.
The study involved a cohort of patients referred to MD Anderson from 1990 to 2010, many of whom were ultimately able to undergo a successful operation to remove the tumors. While the results of small series and isolated cases in which this approach was used have been published, this is the largest study including only those patients who had a previous unsuccessful attempt to remove the tumor, according to Dr. Fleming.
The pancreas is located in the back of the abdomen, near vital arteries and veins that provide blood to the intestines and liver. If the tumor encroaches on these vessels, the operation to remove the tumor can also involve reconstructing these important blood vessels, raising the complexity of the procedure. Reconstructing these vessels in a way that restores appropriate blood flow is critical for the overall wellness and survivability of patients after the operation.
The investigators stratified each patient's risk for metastatic disease based on tumor involvement with local blood vessels, suspicious biopsy results and the nature of the tumor, and overall health status aside from pancreatic cancer. Patients who met these criteria underwent the protocol.