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Cancer Health Center

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Unusual Cancers of Childhood Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Abdominal Cancers


(Refer to the PDQ summary on adult Gastric Cancer Treatment for more information.)

Cancer of the Pancreas

Malignant pancreatic tumors are rare in children and adolescents with an incidence of 0.46 cases per 1 million (younger than 30 years).[42,43,44,45] Tumors included in this general category can arise at any site within the pancreas. Cancers of the pancreas may be classified as adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, acinic cell carcinomas, liposarcomas, lymphomas, papillary-cystic carcinomas, pancreatoblastomas, malignant insulinomas, glucagonomas, and gastrinomas.[46,47,48,49,50] Several cases of primitive neuroectodermal tumor of the pancreas have been reported in children and young adults.[51] Pancreatoblastoma is reported to be associated with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome and Cushing syndrome.[52,53]

Most malignant pancreatic tumors are carcinomas and do not secrete hormones, although some tumors secrete insulin, which can lead to symptoms of weakness, fatigue, hypoglycemia, and coma.[45,46,54] If the tumor interferes with the normal function of the islet cells, patients may have watery diarrhea or abnormalities of salt balance. Both carcinoma of the pancreas and pancreatoblastoma can produce active hormones and can be associated with an abdominal mass, wasting, and pain.[55,56,57] At times, there is obstruction of the head of the pancreas, which is associated with jaundice and gastrointestinal bleeding. Elevation of alpha-fetoprotein has been seen in pancreatoblastoma and acinar cell carcinoma.[49,58,59,60]

Diagnosis of pancreatic tumors is usually established by biopsy, using laparotomy or a minimally invasive surgery (e.g., laparoscopy). A diagnosis can be achieved only after ruling out various benign and cancerous lesions.

Solid pseudopapillary neoplasm of the pancreas is a rare tumor of borderline malignancy that has been reported in children but more commonly occurs in young women.[61,62,63,64] Treatment consists of complete tumor resection (ideally without biopsy). Metastases may occur, but in general, prognosis is good following surgery alone.[50,65,66]; [67][Level of evidence: 3iiA]; [68][Level of evidence: 3iiDi]; [69][Level of evidence: 3iiDiii]

Treatment includes various surgical procedures to remove the pancreas and duodenum or removal of part of the pancreas. Complete resection is usually possible and long-term survival is likely, although pancreatoblastoma has a high recurrence rate.[47,58]; [70][Level of evidence: 3iiA] A series of 31 patients aged 4 to 18.7 years included 21 patients with solid pseudopapillary tumor, four with neuroendocrine tumor, four with pancreatoblastoma, and one with an unclassified spindle-cell tumor. Treatment was surgical removal in 29 patients. The 3-year survival rate for patients with pseudopapillary tumor was 100%.[71][Level of evidence 3iiA] For pediatric patients, the effectiveness of radiation therapy is not known. Chemotherapy may be useful for treatment of localized or metastatic pancreatic carcinoma. The combination of cisplatin and doxorubicin has produced responses in pancreatoblastoma prior to tumor resection.[72,73] Postoperative treatment with cisplatin, doxorubicin, ifosfamide, and etoposide has also produced responses in patients with pancreatoblastoma, although surgery is the mainstay of therapy.[60]; [74][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Other agents that may be of value include 5-FU, streptozotocin, mitomycin C, carboplatin, gemcitabine, and irinotecan.[75] Response rates and survival rates generally are not good.

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