Introduction: In cancer of the pancreatic head region, exocrine insufficiency is a well-known complication, leading to steatorrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition. Its presence is frequently overlooked, however, because the primary attention is focused on cancer treatment. To date, the risk of developing exocrine insufficiency is unspecified. Therefore, we assessed this function in patients with tumors of the pancreatic head, distal common bile duct, or ampulla of Vater. Methods: Between March 2010 and August 2012, we prospectively included patients diagnosed with cancer of the pancreatic head region at our tertiary center. To preclude the effect of a resection, we excluded operated patients. Each month, the exocrine function was determined with a fecal elastase test. Furthermore, endocrine function, steatorrhea-related symptoms, and body weight were evaluated. Patients were followed for 6 months, or until death. Results: Thirty-two patients were included. The tumor was located in the pancreas in 75%, in the bile duct in 16%, and in the ampullary region in 9%, with a median size of 2.5 cm. At diagnosis, the prevalence of exocrine insufficiency was 66%, which increased to 92% after a median follow-up of 2 months (interquartile range, 1 to 4 mo). Discussion: Most patients with cancer of the pancreatic head region were already exocrine insufficient at diagnosis, and within several months, this function was impaired in almost all cases. Given this high prevalence, physicians should be focused on diagnosing and treating exocrine insufficiency, to optimize the nutritional status and physical condition, especially for those patients undergoing palliative chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

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Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology
Department of Surgery

Sikkens, E., Cahen, D., de Wit, J., Looman, C., van Eijck, C., & Bruno, M. (2014). A prospective assessment of the natural course of the exocrine pancreatic function in patients with a pancreatic head tumor. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 48(5). doi:10.1097/MCG.0b013e31829f56e7