Pancreatic cancer: the bigger picture

Surg Clin North Am. 2001 Jun;81(3):557-74. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6109(05)70143-2.


Despite accurate diagnosis, better radiologic techniques, and safer surgery, long-term survival after surgical therapy for pancreatic cancer is disappointing. Median survival following pancreaticoduodenal resection is 12 to 15 months independent of surgical expertise, hospital size, or technical factors. Subsets of favorable tumors and longer survival times after surgery have been defined and include: small tumor size and low-grade lesions, tumor-free margins, and absence of nodal, venous, or perineural invasion; however, long-term survivors of pancreatic cancer may have none of these favorable features, and their tumors commonly manifest the most adverse tumor prognostic features. The converse that small-sized, histologically favorable tumors result in long-term survivors, also is not true. Five-year survival rates average 5% or less after all resections. In a large series in which 118 pancreatic resections were performed in 684 evaluated patients over a 6-year period, there were 12 5-year survivors, 5 of whom died in the sixth year. A report of 10-year survivors after surgery numbered 13 patients. The best actual 5-year survival rate was reported by Trede et al. Of the 37, 5-year survivors from a cohort of 118 patients, more than half died of cancer. This far exceeds any other actual survival rate and may be explained by a smaller tumor size. Farnell et al reported a 5-year survival rate difference (i.e., actuarial survival) in a subset of 174 resected patients with adenocarcinoma without perineural or duodenal invasion and with negative nodes (23% versus 6.8%), respectively. An impressive, large series of 616 patients with resected adenocarcinoma of the pancreas who underwent PDR (85%), distal pancreatectomy (9%), and total pancreatectomy (6%), has been reported. The mortality rate was 2.1%, and postoperative complications occurred in 30%. The five-year survival rate was 15%. The author's best result was observed among 20 initially "unresectable" patients who were treated with chemoradiation therapy, followed by tumor extirpation. Among the 18 surgical survivors there are seven five-year survivors, three of whom are in their tenth year of survival. They are discussed in the article by Cooperman et al ("Long-term Follow-up...") elsewhere in this issue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cachexia / etiology
  • Humans
  • Jaundice / etiology
  • Jaundice / surgery
  • Nutrition Disorders / etiology
  • Pancreatectomy* / methods
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / complications
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms* / surgery
  • Patient Readmission
  • Stents