Pancreatic cancer surgery: past, present, and future
The history of pancreatic cancer surgery, though fraught with failure and setbacks, is punctuated by periods of incremental progress dependent upon the state of the art and the mettle of the surgeons daring enough to attempt it. Surgical anesthesia and the aseptic techniques developed during the latter half of the 19th century were instrumental in establishing a viable setting for pancreatic surgery to develop. Together, they allowed for bolder interventions and improved survival through the postoperative period. Surgical management began with palliative procedures to address biliary obstruction in advanced disease. By the turn of the century, surgical pioneers such as Alessandro Codivilla and Walther Kausch were demonstrating the technical feasibility of pancreatic head resections and applying principles learned from palliation to perform complicated anatomical reconstructions. Allen O. Whipple, the namesake of the pancreaticoduodenectomy (PD), was the first to take a systematic approach to refining the procedure. Perhaps his greatest contribution was sparking a renewed interest in the surgical management of periampullary cancers and engendering a community of surgeons who advanced the field through their collective efforts. Though the work of Whipple and his contemporaries legitimized PD as an accepted surgical option, it was the establishment of high-volume centers of excellence and a multidisciplinary approach in the later decades of the 20th century that made it a viable surgical option. Today, pancreatic surgeons are experimenting with minimally invasive surgical techniques, expanding indications for resection, and investigating new methods for screening and early detection. In the future, the effective management of pancreatic cancer will depend upon our ability to reliably detect the earliest cancers and precursor lesions to allow for truly curative resections.