Drs. Ahrendt and Pitt should be congratulated on a comprehensive and well-presented review of the surgical management of pancreatic cancer. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer continues to be a major cause of cancer-related death. The majority (80%) of patients still present with unresectable locally advanced or metastatic disease.
Preoperative Imaging Modalities and Laparoscopy
In the 1980s, several surgical series reported dismal resectability rates of 25%. Due to poor imaging techniques, most patients were being staged intraoperatively by manual palpation of the plane between the tumor and the mesenteric vessels. Patients found to be unresectable had then undergone a major laparotomy with little benefit, and postoperative recovery delayed their treatment options.
Dual-phase contrast-enhanced spiral computed tomography (CT) has revolutionized both the detection and staging of pancreatic cancer. The accuracy with which spiral CT predicts resectability ranges from 75% to 90%. CT criteria for surgical resectability include (1) the absence of extrapancreatic disease, (2) a patent superior mesenteric vein-portal vein confluence, and (3) no direct tumor extension into the celiac axis or superior mesenteric artery.
Investigators at the Massachusetts General Hospital reported that 24% of patients thought to have resectable pancreatic cancers on CT scan had occult metastatic disease found on diagnostic laparoscopy. Patients found to have occult disease were spared an unnecessary laparotomy. However, with improved state-of-the-art spiral CT, routine use of staging laparoscopy may not be easily justified.
Ultrasound and PET
More recently, endoscopic ultrasound has been shown to be helpful in detecting small pancreatic cancers. In our practice, the technique is used in patients with a clinical suspicion of pancreatic cancer and an equivocal or negative CT scan. Although the procedure is very user-dependent, it offers the additional benefit of image-guided tissue diagnosis. More experience with whole-body positron-emission tomography may help stage patients more accurately and also may be able to differentiate benign from malignant pancreatic tumors.