Radiation therapy may improve survival among patients diagnosed with early-stage pancreatic cancer. These findings were recently published in the journal Cancer.
The pancreas is an organ surrounded by the stomach, small intestine, bile ducts (tubes that connect the liver to the small intestine), gallbladder, liver, and spleen. The pancreas helps the body break down food and also produces hormones, such as insulin, to regulate the body’s storage and use of food. Depending on the extent of the cancer, treatment options for pancreatic cancer may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Early pancreatic cancer refers to cancer that has not spread from the pancreas to distant sites in the body. Treatment for early pancreatic cancer typically includes surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible.
Researchers in this study identified 1,930 patients diagnosed and treated for pancreatic cancer between 1988 and 2003. These patients had pancreatic cancer that had not spread to the surrounding lymph nodes. They had undergone surgery to remove or minimize cancer found in the pancreas. Some patients had radiation following surgery, while others did not. Researchers compared overall survival between patients who received radiation following surgery with those who did not.
- Among all patients the average survival was 17 months.
- Patients who received radiation therapy had a significantly better survival rate than those who did not receive radiation (20 months versus15 months, respectively).
- Other factors that may have impacted overall survival include age, extent of cancer, and location of the tumor.
- When patients surviving less than three months were excluded from the evaluation, no benefit was found among either treatment group (radiation following surgery and no radiation).
- However, when all factors were evaluated together, radiation remained an important component of improved overall survival.
Researchers concluded that for patients with operable pancreatic cancer that has not spread to the surrounding lymph nodes, radiation therapy improved overall survival. Patients with operable pancreatic cancer may wish to discuss radiation therapy with their physician.
Reference: Artinyan, A., Hellan, M., Mojica-Manosa, P., et al. Improved survival with adjuvant external beam radiation therapy in lymph node negative pancreatic cancer. Cancer. 2008: 112(1). 34-42.