Patients with pancreatic cancer who receive chemotherapy following surgery survived longer than those who were treated with both such drugs and radiation, a new study finds.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in the U.S., with an estimated 48,960 new cases per year. Although surgery offers the best hope of cure, only 10-to-15 percent of patients are eligible because when the disease is usually diagnosed, it is too far advanced. But even among those who undergo surgery, the cancer returns in 50-to-90 percent of cases, and most patients die from the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The study, which was conducted by nine academic medical centers that treat high numbers of pancreatic cancer patients, looked at 1,130 patients who had undergone successful surgical resection and followed them for 18 months.
The researchers found that the standard course of six months of chemotherapy after surgery, which is known as "adjuvant therapy," resulted in a 29 percent improvement in overall survival when compared to surgery alone, but it also found that adding radiation, known as "chemoradiation," did not result in any added benefit.
In addition, although both chemotherapy and chemoradiation significantly decreased the risk of the cancer reoccurring locally, only the chemotherapy alone reduced the risk that it would spread to distant organs, the study found.
"Unless we get better evidence to show that radiation helps in resected pancreatic cancer, we believe adjuvant therapy should be confined to chemotherapy after surgery," said Dr. Alexander A. Parikh, an associate professor at Vanderbilt University, and the lead author of the study, which is published online in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
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