A retrospective review of the pathology and clinical course of 72 patients undergoing resection of carcinoma of the head of the pancreas was undertaken to identify the frequency of tumor involvement at standard surgical transection margins (stomach, duodenum, pancreas, and bile duct) as well as the peripancreatic soft tissue margin and the potential clinical significance of these findings. Of 72 patients undergoing resection, 37 patients (51%) were found to have tumor extension to the surgical margins. The most commonly involved margin was peripancreatic soft tissue (27 patients) followed by pancreatic transection line (14 patients) and bile duct transection line (4 patients). For 37 patients with tumor present at a resection margin, there were no survivors beyond 41 months. No difference in survival or local control was seen between 14 patients receiving postoperative radiation therapy and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) compared with 23 patients not receiving additional treatment. In contrast, the 5-year actuarial survival and local control of 35 patients undergoing resection without tumor invasion to a resection margin was 22% and 43%, respectively. The 5-year survival and local control of 16 patients receiving adjuvant radiation therapy and 5-FU was 29% and 42%, respectively, whereas these figures were 18% and 31% for 19 patients not receiving adjuvant therapy (p > 0.10). Because residual local tumor after resection is common, preoperative radiation therapy may be beneficial in this disease. It should minimize the risk of dissemination during operative manipulation and facilitate a curative resection by promoting tumor regression. Because local failure rates approach 60% after resection and adjuvant therapy even in cases having clear resection margins, intraoperative radiation therapy to the tumor bed at the time of resection also might be considered. Protocols evaluating the feasibility and efficacy of preoperative radiation therapy and resection with intraoperative radiation therapy for patients with pancreatic cancer are underway.
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