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September 7, 2021

Pancreatic Cancer: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York
  • 2David M. Rubenstein Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research, New York, New York
  • 3Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York
  • 4Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, San Francisco, California
  • 5Department of Surgery, Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
  • 6Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA. 2021;326(9):851-862. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.13027

Importance  Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a relatively uncommon cancer, with approximately 60 430 new diagnoses expected in 2021 in the US. The incidence of PDAC is increasing by 0.5% to 1.0% per year, and it is projected to become the second-leading cause of cancer-related mortality by 2030.

Observations  Effective screening is not available for PDAC, and most patients present with locally advanced (30%-35%) or metastatic (50%-55%) disease at diagnosis. A multidisciplinary management approach is recommended. Localized pancreas cancer includes resectable, borderline resectable (localized and involving major vascular structures), and locally advanced (unresectable) disease based on the degree of arterial and venous involvement by tumor, typically of the superior mesenteric vessels. For patients with resectable disease at presentation (10%-15%), surgery followed by adjuvant chemotherapy with FOLFIRINOX (fluorouracil, irinotecan, leucovorin, oxaliplatin) represents a standard therapeutic approach with an anticipated median overall survival of 54.4 months, compared with 35 months for single-agent gemcitabine (stratified hazard ratio for death, 0.64 [95% CI, 0.48-0.86]; P = .003). Neoadjuvant systemic therapy with or without radiation followed by evaluation for surgery is an accepted treatment approach for resectable and borderline resectable disease. For patients with locally advanced and unresectable disease due to extensive vascular involvement, systemic therapy followed by radiation is an option for definitive locoregional disease control. For patients with advanced (locally advanced and metastatic) PDAC, multiagent chemotherapy regimens, including FOLFIRINOX, gemcitabine/nab-paclitaxel, and nanoliposomal irinotecan/fluorouracil, all have a survival benefit of 2 to 6 months compared with a single-agent gemcitabine. For the 5% to 7% of patients with a BRCA pathogenic germline variant and metastatic PDAC, olaparib, a poly (adenosine diphosphate [ADB]-ribose) polymerase inhibitor, is a maintenance option that improves progression-free survival following initial platinum-based therapy.

Conclusions and Relevance  Approximately 60 000 new cases of PDAC are diagnosed per year, and approximately 50% of patients have advanced disease at diagnosis. The incidence of PDAC is increasing. Currently available cytotoxic therapies for advanced disease are modestly effective. For all patients, multidisciplinary management, comprehensive germline testing, and integrated supportive care are recommended.

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