Ductal carcinoma of the pancreas remains a challenging problem for gastrointestinal surgeons. Significant progress has been made in diagnosis, preoperative staging, and safety of surgery; however, long-term survival after resection is unusual, and cure is rare. That said, the authors maintain their aggressive posture regarding this disease, recognizing that resection offers the only potential for cure. The authors' approach such patients in the most efficient and least invasive manner possible, relying primarily on triple phase helical abdominal CT for clinical diagnosis and staging, reserving ERCP and EUS for diagnostic dilemmas. In fit candidates with potentially resectable lesions, the authors eschew pre- or intraoperative biopsy, angiography, or endoscopic stenting and use preliminary limited staging laparoscopy selectively. Surgical palliation is chosen for fit patients who, at exploration for potentially curative resection, are found to have occult distant metastases or locally unresectable disease. Radical pancreatoduodenectomy can be performed with a mortality rate of 3% or less, and although morbidity remains significant, most can be managed with conservative measures. Quality of life after pancreatoduodenectomy is good and, if not, is generally a manifestation of recurrence rather than physiologic alterations inherent to the procedure. Adjuvant chemoradiation is standard therapy after resection, recommended for those with locally unresectable disease but used selectively for those with distant metastasis. Survival after potentially curative resection has remained disappointing. Whether extended lymphadenectomy or neoadjuvant chemoradiation improves survival has not been determined. Clearly, methods for earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and more effective adjuvant therapies are sorely needed.
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