In certain patients with pancreatic and biliary cancer, chemotherapy may relieve tumour-related symptoms, improve quality of life and possibly prolong survival. The extent of these improvements is not completely known in spite of the extensive use of this treatment modality. The aim of this study was to estimate any gain in the quantity and quality of life produced by chemotherapy in patients with pancreatic and biliary cancer.
Between January 1991 and February 1995, 90 eligible patients with pancreatic or biliary cancer were randomized to either chemotherapy in addition to best supportive care or to best supportive care. Chemotherapy was allowed in the latter group if the supportive measures did not lead to palliation. Chemotherapy was either sequential 5-fluorouracil/leucovorin combined with etoposide (FELv) or, in elderly and poor performance patients, the same regimen without etoposide (FLv). Quality of life was evaluated with the EORTC-QLQ-C30 instrument.
Mean scale scores in the QLQ-C30 improved more often/deteriorated less frequently in the chemotherapy group than in the best supportive care group. More patients in the chemotherapy group (36%, 17/49) had an improved or prolonged high quality of life for a minimum period of months compared to those in the best supportive care group (10%, 4/41, p <0.01). Overall survival was significantly longer in the chemotherapy group (median 6 vs. 2.5 months, p <0.01). Also, the quality-adjusted survival time was longer for patients randomized to chemotherapy (median 4 vs. 1 months, p <0.01). The effects were seen both in pancreatic and biliary cancer.
The results show that chemotherapy can add to both quantity and quality of life in advanced pancreatic and biliary cancer. The number of patients who benefit from treatment is, however, still limited; for this reason careful selection before, and close monitoring during, treatment are necessary.