How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Updated: Oct 02, 2020
  • Author: Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: N Joseph Espat, MD, MS, FACS  more...
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There is consensus that surgery is the primary mode of treatment for pancreatic cancer. However, an important role exists for chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy in an adjuvant or neoadjuvant setting, and in the treatment of patients with unresectable disease.

Typically, extrapancreatic disease precludes curative resection, and surgical treatment may be palliative at best.

Historically, vascular involvement has been considered a contraindication to resective cure. However, the invasion of the superior mesenteric or portal vein is no longer an absolute contraindication. [62] These veins can be resected partially with as much as 50% narrowing of the lumen. In addition, complete reconstruction is possible, especially using native veins as replacement (ie, internal jugular, greater saphenous, or splenic).

Nonetheless, invasion of the superior mesenteric, celiac, and hepatic arteries still presents a barrier to resection. No evidence indicates that a vascular reconstruction, which permits an attempt at surgical resection, improves or contributes to survival.

After a thorough preoperative workup, the surgical approach can be tailored to the location, size, and locally invasive characteristics of the tumor. Curative resection options include pancreaticoduodenectomy, with or without sparing of the pylorus; total pancreatectomy; and distal pancreatectomy. Each procedure is associated with its own set of perioperative complications and risks, and these points should be taken into consideration by the surgical team and discussed with the patient when considering the goal of resection.

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