Applying research to practice

Studies reinforce clinical experience and intuition


Timing of adjuvant treatment

Sung Jun Ma, MD, department of radiation medicine at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Buffalo, N.Y., and colleagues analyzed data from the more than 7,500 stage I-II resected pancreatic cancer patients in the National Cancer Database, of whom more than 5,400 ultimately received adjuvant therapy (chemotherapy with or without radiation). The patients were treated during 2004-2015. Appropriately, the investigators focused on correlating survival duration with the interval between surgery and initiation of adjuvant therapy. Other endpoints would be hard to accurately measure and verify without detailed clinical information (JAMA Network Open. 2019 Aug 14. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.9126).

They found that the best overall survival was associated with starting adjuvant treatment 28-59 days after surgery – not earlier (17% higher mortality) and not later (9% higher). Patients who did not start adjuvant treatment until more than 90 days post operatively still had an overall survival benefit (hazard ratio, 0.75; 95% confidence interval, 0.66-0.85; P less than .001), a more impressive hazard ratio than that seen for any particular interval between surgery and adjuvant treatment. Overall survival at 2 years was 47.2% versus 38% for the adjuvant therapy and surgery alone cohorts, respectively, with no overlap in the 95% confidence intervals.

As expected, longer delays to receive adjuvant treatment were associated with longer inpatient surgical stays, advanced age, black race, lower income, and a readmission for a postoperative complication within 30 days.

What this means in practice

This is another study that verifies that the patients we worry about most – older patients, those with a complicated recovery from surgery, and those with fewer supportive resources – are exactly the patients we should worry about most. It changes very little for most practicing oncologists. The analysis validates the importance of adjuvant therapy for patients who are able to receive it – whenever that is.

The data collection in this publication precedes recent improvements in adjuvant chemotherapy for resected pancreatic cancer, such as FOLFIRINOX or gemcitabine plus capecitabine. In an era of improved treatment, delays in initiating therapy may be less important since better treatment overcomes many prognostic variables that are significant for less effective therapy.

In my opinion, this large-data analysis is not really hypothesis-generating or practice-changing, but it does compel us to continue research efforts to improve surgical morbidity, identify better adjuvant and advanced disease regimens, and consider neoadjuvant treatment so that more than 72% of patients can receive all components of the multimodality treatment they need.

Dr. Lyss has been a community-based medical oncologist and clinical researcher for more than 35 years, practicing in St. Louis. His clinical and research interests are in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of breast and lung cancers and in expanding access to clinical trials to medically underserved populations.

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