Article Abstract

Palliative therapy in pancreatic cancer—palliative surgery

Authors: Julie Perinel, Mustapha Adham


Pancreatic cancer is a highly lethal disease with a dismal prognosis. It will probably become the second leading cause of cancer-related death within the next decade in Western countries. Over 80% of patients undergo palliative treatment for unresectable pancreatic cancer due to locally advanced disease or metastases. Those patients often develop gastric outlet obstruction (GOO), obstructive jaundice and pain during the course of their disease. Symptoms such as vomiting, anorexia, pruritus and jaundice will impact the quality of life (QOL) and could delay the administration of the chemotherapy. Palliative therapy in pancreatic cancer aims to relieve the symptoms durably and to improve the QOL. Palliative surgery was traditionally considered as a gold standard with the “double by-pass” including biliary-digestive and gastro-jejunal anastomosis. However, since the development of endoscopic stenting and minimally invasive surgery, the choice of the best modalities remains debated. While there is still a place for surgical gastrojejunostomy (GJ) in case of duodenal or GOO, endoscopic biliary stenting during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is now accepted as the gold standard in case of obstructive jaundice. In pain management, endoscopic ultrasound guided or percutaneous celiac plexus neurolysis is recommended. The selection of the best technique should consider the effectiveness and the morbidity of the treatment, the performance status of the patient and the disease stage. While endoscopic stenting is associated with earlier recovery and shorter length of stay, recurrence of symptoms and reintervention are less frequent after palliative surgery. Finally, controversy exists on whether to perform prophylactic palliative surgery in the absence of symptoms when unresectable disease is discovered during surgical exploration.