"Boosted" radiation dose may make some pancreatic cancers resectable

June 12, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (June 12, 2015) — Because of its location, cancers on the pancreas may invade and wrap around nearby veins and arteries in the abdomen. When these vessels become involved, surgery to remove the cancer, which is typically the standard treatment, becomes significantly more difficult and sometimes impossible. Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have identified a way to safely shrink the tumor, pulling it away from these vessels and allowing patients to undergo potentially curative surgery.

Neoadjuvant therapy is treatment given prior to cancer surgery in effort to make tumors resectable, or surgically removable. For patients with pancreatic cancer that is borderline resectable or unresectable as a result of vessel involvement, neoadjuvant therapy with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is standard. Lora Wang, MD, a resident in the department of radiation oncology at Fox Chase, and colleagues found that giving extra boosts of radiation therapy to the tumor areas that are dangerously involved with the major vessels improved the rate of surgical resection in these patients. Their findings are published in the journal Practical Radiation Oncology.

Approximately 48,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year, and only about 6% of newly-diagnosed patients live for more than 5 years. Less than one out of five pancreatic cancers appear to be confined to the pancreas at diagnosis, and even fewer turn out to be truly resectable.

"In patients with non-metastatic pancreatic cancer, the tumor's involvement with the nearby vessels is what determines whether or not a tumor is resectable," Wang said. "Some small vessels can be removed surgically without issue, but there are many important veins and arteries in the abdomen that cannot be removed easily or at all. Our practice is to give patients with borderline resectable or unresectable cancer chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy first in hopes that their tumor will shrink so they can proceed to surgery."

The researchers evaluated patients with borderline resectable and locally advanced pancreatic cancer who were treated with neoadjuvant chemotherapy and radiation therapy to determine if the "vessel boost" improved the rate of curative surgery. The study included 104 patients: 23 received a vessel boost and the remaining 81 did not. The median standard dose of radiation was 50.4 Gray (Gy). All patients also received concurrent chemotherapy Patients who received the vessel boost received a median dose of 56 Gy, with the extra being delivered to the areas involved with the vessels.

They found that patients who received the vessel boost were more likely to undergo surgical resection compared with the patients who received only the standard dose of radiation. In addition, there was no difference in side effects between the two groups.

Wang also said that patients who show evidence of disease progression or metastatic disease during upfront chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy can be spared a major surgery.

The Hospital of Fox Chase Cancer Center and its affiliates (collectively “Fox Chase Cancer Center”), a member of the Temple University Health System, is one of the leading cancer research and treatment centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.


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