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Surgical Management of Pancreatic Cancer

Surgical Management of Pancreatic Cancer

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%.[1] 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.[2] 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

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.


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