Background: Computed tomography (CT) is insensitive to small metastatic deposits in patients with pancreatic cancer. This study aimed to evaluate additional staging information obtained by laparoscopy in the subset of patients with locally extending pancreatic cancer but no evidence of distant disease using computed tomography.
Methods: Between April 2000 and February 2004, 74 patients with locally unresectable pancreatic cancer and no evidence of metastasis detected by high-quality pancreas protocol computed tomography underwent outpatient staging laparoscopy and peritoneal lavage cytology.
Results: Occult tumor was found during staging laparoscopy in 25 of the 74 patients (34%). The results were positive for peritoneal lavage cytology in 27% (20/74), for liver lesions in 16% (12/74), and for peritoneal implants in 7% (5/74) of the patients. Body and tail tumors were twice as likely as pancreatic head tumors to have unsuspected metastasis (53% vs 28%).
Conclusions: Even the best computed tomography scan is not adequate for accurate staging of locally extended pancreatic cancer because occult distant disease will be found in half of the patients with left-sided disease and one-fourth of those with right-sided pancreatic cancer.