What is the Effect of Age on Pancreatic Resection?

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Both morbidity and mortality rates following pancreatic resection increase with advanced age. The reported mortality rates following pancreatic surgery are underestimated in single-institution studies. There is a significant publication bias where only centers with good results report their outcomes. The population-based data are critical to provide a more realistic view of mortality rates following pancreatic resection. It is essential in counseling elderly patients that they understand that mortality rates are increased, morbidity rates are increased, and the effect of complications often leads to a prolonged convalescence. They will have a longer length of stay and up to a 30% to 40% chance that they will not be able to go home but will need to recover in an extended care facility following hospital discharge. Although the morbidity and mortality rates are increased for elderly patients, they are well within the acceptable range for major abdominal surgery when performed at experienced centers. Patients also need to be aware that surgical resection is the only curative option for pancreatic cancer. In reasonable risk elderly patients the benefit of surgical resection does not decrease with age and these patients can experience long-term survival and good quality of life. Once patients over 80 get beyond the 2-year survival mark without cancer recurrence their survival parallels that of their age-matched counterparts. One should also keep in mind that the reported survival rates are mostly for pancreatic cancer, but patients with other periampullary cancers have improved long-term survival when compared with those with pancreatic cancer. Elderly patients also need to be aware of the fact that hospital volume and surgeon experience significantly impact outcomes. The mortality rates following surgery in the oldest patients, those over 80, are nearly twice as high at low-volume facilities compared with high-volume facilities. The overall mortality rate and the difference decrease with decreasing age. This likely represents improved processes of care at experienced centers and better ability to manage the complications of pancreatic surgery, which occur more commonly in elderly patients. It is important to educate both physicians and elderly patients about this difference. Currently, elderly patients are less likely to be resected at high-volume centers than younger patients. The reasons for this are unclear but include lack of awareness of the importance of hospital volume and surgeon experience and reluctance of patients in this age group to travel long distances from home for their care. When reviewing the data, one must be aware that these studies (both population-based and single-institution) are retrospective and subject to significant selection bias. The elderly patients undergoing resection were clearly carefully chosen. There is still nihilism, however, toward aggressive care in these patients, with fewer than 10% of patients over 80 with locoregional disease and no comorbidities being resected, whereas 40% of patients 66 to 70 in the same category are resected. These data provide an excellent foundation to guide informed decision-making in the elderly population with pancreatic and periampullary cancer. Patients need to know that surgical resection offers the only hope for cure and that the benefit of surgical resection does not diminish with age. The diagnosis (pancreatic versus other periampullary cancers versus benign disease or premalignant lesions) needs to be taken into account to balance fully the risks and benefits. Older patients need to be aware of the increased morbidity, mortality, and prolonged convalescence they may experience. They also need to be advised to have their surgery done by experienced surgeons at experienced centers where these complications can be best managed. Further studies are needed to guide patient selection. The effect of patient comorbidities, cognitive status, preoperative functional status, and frailty need to be more formally assessed to select patients, maximize surgical resection in appropriate candidates, and improve short-term outcomes. Once better characterized, specialized geriatric pathways may optimize surgical resection rates, streamline care, and improve outcomes in this challenging population [26]. Age alone, however, should not be a contraindication to pancreatic resection in elderly patients with pancreatic cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)233-249
Number of pages17
JournalAdvances in Surgery
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery

Cite this