Does surgery cure pancreatic cancer?

John A. Chabot
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism
Presently, surgery offers the best chance for a cure and long term management of pancreatic cancer. However not every patient is eligible for surgical intervention. Factors such as the stage of the disease, personal health, and the ability to tolerate a major operation - including prolonged anesthesia - all must be considered before a patient can undergo surgery. 
Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgery

In the right setting, yes. Surgery combined with radiation and chemotherapy carries the greatest potential for cure. The difficulty is that pancreatic cancer is typically discovered late in the disease process, and at that point, only 15-20% of tumors are able to be resected. Surgical resection and procedure are dependent upon different factors which include location of the tumor, lymphatic invasion, vascular involvement, and potential for negative margins.

Tumors to the head of the pancreas have a higher survival rate seeing as there is earlier symptoms and the disease is discovered at an earlier stage. Patients that are able to undergo a standard pancreaticoduodenectomy (whipple) are quoted an approximately 20-30% survival rate at 5 years for node negative disease. This number does drop to approximately 10% for node positive disease. Newer studies have found that with the combination of chemotherapy and radiation, these numbers in some studies have reached approximately 45% for node negative, resected tumors with chemotherapy and radiation follow up.

Tumors to the tail of the pancreas are rarely discovered until the late stages of the disease. Tumors to the tail or body of the pancreas can be resected if discovered at an appropriate time. These tumors frequently have metastasized at the time of discovery and surgical intervention is not appropriate. Even when the tumor is resectable, some studies have still discovered only an approximately 12% survival rate at one year, and approximately 5% at two years due to the presence of hidden metastasis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.