Background: Pancreatic cancer has a dismal prognosis with 5-year overall survival rate of around 5%. Although surgery is still the best option in operable cases, majority of the patients who present in locally advanced stages are deemed inoperable. Novel approaches are therefore needed for the management of around 80% of these inoperable locally advanced pancreatic cancers (LAPC). Hyperthermia (39-43 °C) is a potent radiosensitizer and further enhances the action of gemcitabine, also a known radiosensitizer. Thus through triple sensitization, a combination of hyperthermia, radiotherapy and gemcitabine could be expected to improve the therapeutic outcomes in LAPC.
Methods: This phase II randomized trial, HEATPAC in unresectable LAPC, explores the feasibility and efficacy of concurrent thermochemoradiotherapy (HTCTRT) over chemoradiotherapy (CTRT) alone with pre- and post-intervention FOLFIRINOX at standard dosage and schedule. Following 4 cycles of neoadjuvant FOLFIRINOX, patients with no metastasis and absence of gross peritoneal carcinomatosis would be randomized to either (a) control arm: concurrent CTRT with gemcitabine (400 mg/m2, weekly ×6) or (b) study arm: locoregional hyperthermia (weekly ×6 during radiotherapy) with concurrent CTRT (same as in control arm). All patients would receive simultaneous-integrated boost intensity-modulated radiation therapy to doses of 56Gy and 50.4Gy to the gross and clinical target volumes respectively delivered in 28 fractions over 5.5 weeks. Deep locoregional hyperthermia would be administered weekly and monitored with real-time intraduodenal multisensor thermometry probe. A temperature of 40-43 °C for 60 min would be aimed for each hyperthermia session. On completion of CTRT/HTCTRT, patients of both groups would receive an additional 8 cycles of FOLFIRINOX.
Discussion: The expected 1-year baseline overall survival with CTRT alone is considered as 40%. With HTCTRT, a survival advantage of +20% is expected. Considering α = 0.05 and β = 0.80 for sample size computation, a total of 86 patients would be equally randomized into the two treatment groups. This phase II study if found to be safe and effective, would form the basis of a future phase III randomized study.
Trial registration: The trial has been registered with the ClinicalTrials.gov ( NCT02439593 ). The study has been approved by the Ethical Commissions of Basel and Zurich and is open for patient recruitment.
Keywords: Chemotherapy; Hyperthermia; Pancreatic cancers; Radiotherapy; Randomized trial; Study protocol.