Note: Some citations in the text of this section are followed by a level of evidence. The PDQ editorial boards use a formal ranking system to help the reader judge the strength of evidence linked to the reported results of a therapeutic strategy. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Levels of Evidence for more information.)
Approximately 20% of patients present with pancreatic cancer amenable to local surgical resection, with operative mortality rates of approximately 1% to 16%.[1,2,3,4,5] Using information from the Medicare claims database, a national cohort study of more than 7,000 patients undergoing pancreaticoduodenectomy between 1992 and 1995 revealed higher in-hospital mortality rates at low-volume hospitals (<1 pancreaticoduodenectomy per year) versus high-volume hospitals (>5 per year) (16% vs. 4%, respectively, P < .01). Complete resection can yield 5-year survival rates of 18% to 24%, but ultimate control remains poor because of the high incidence of both local and distant tumor recurrence.[6,7,8][Level of evidence: 3iA] The role of postoperative therapy (chemotherapy with or without chemoradiation therapy [CRT]) in the management of this disease remains controversial because much of the randomized clinical trial data available are statistically underpowered and provide conflicting results.[9,10,11,12,13]
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of islet cell tumors. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians who care for cancer patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Reviewers and Updates
This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Adult Treatment...
Three phase III trials examined the potential overall survival (OS) benefit of postoperative adjuvant 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based CRT. A small randomized trial conducted by the Gastrointestinal Study Group (GITSG) in 1985 demonstrated a significant but modest improvement in median-term and long-term survival over resection alone with postoperative bolus 5-FU and regional split course radiation given at a dose of 40 Gy.[Level of evidence: 1iiA];[Level of evidence: 2A] An attempt by the European Organization for the Research and Treatment of Cancer to reproduce the results of the GITSG trial failed to confirm a significant benefit for adjuvant CRT over resection alone;[Level of evidence: 1iiA] however, this trial treated patients with pancreatic as well as periampullary cancers (with a potential better prognosis). A subset analysis of the patients with primary pancreatic tumors indicated a trend towards improved median, 2-year, and 5-year OS with adjuvant therapy compared with surgery alone (17.1 months, 37% and 20% vs. 12.6 months, 23% and 10%, P = .09 for median survival). An updated analysis of a subsequent European Study for Pancreatic Cancer (ESPAC 1) trial examined only patients who underwent strict randomization following pancreatic resection. The patients were assigned to one of four groups (observation, bolus 5-FU chemotherapy, bolus 5-FU CRT, or CRT followed by additional chemotherapy). With a 2 × 2 factorial design reported, at a median follow-up of 47 months, a median survival benefit was observed for only the patients who received postoperative 5-FU chemotherapy. These results were difficult to interpret, however, because of a high rate of protocol nonadherence and the lack of a separate analysis for each of the four groups in the 2 x 2 design.[12,13,14][Level of evidence: 1iiA]