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Stage I and II Pancreatic Cancer

    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).[1] 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]

    Three phase III trials prior to 2000 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.[9][Level of evidence: 1iiA];[10][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;[11][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).

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    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 × 2 design.[12,13,14][Level of evidence: 1iiA]


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