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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Childhood Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Malignant pancreatic tumors are rare in children and adolescents, with an incidence of 0.46 cases per 1 million individuals younger than 30 years.[1,2,3,4]
The primary pancreatic tumors of childhood can be classified into the following four categories:
Cancer in children and adolescents is rare, although the overall incidence has been slowly increasing since 1975. Referral to medical centers with multidisciplinary teams of cancer specialists experienced in treating cancers that occur in childhood and adolescence should be considered. This multidisciplinary team approach incorporates the skills of the following health care professionals and others to ensure that children receive treatment, supportive care, and rehabilitation that will achieve optimal survival and quality of life:
(Refer to the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care summaries for specific information about supportive care for children and adolescents with cancer.)
The American Academy of Pediatrics has outlined guidelines for pediatric cancer centers and their role in the treatment of pediatric patients with cancer. At these pediatric cancer centers, clinical trials are available for most types of cancer that occur in children and adolescents, and the opportunity to participate is offered to most patients and their families. Clinical trials for children and adolescents diagnosed with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with current standard therapy. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapy for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Dramatic improvements in survival have been achieved for children and adolescents with cancer. Between 1975 and 2010, childhood cancer mortality decreased by more than 50%. Childhood and adolescent cancer survivors require close monitoring because side effects of cancer therapy may persist or develop months or years after treatment. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for specific information about the incidence, type, and monitoring of late effects in childhood and adolescent cancer survivors.)
Childhood cancer is a rare disease, with about 15,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States in individuals younger than 20 years. The U.S. Rare Diseases Act of 2002 defines a rare disease as one that affects populations smaller than 200,000 people. Therefore, all pediatric cancers are considered rare.
The designation of a rare tumor is not uniform among pediatric and adult groups. In adults, rare cancers are defined as those with an annual incidence of fewer than six cases per 100,000 people. They account for up to 24% of all cancers diagnosed in the European Union and about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.[5,6] Also, the designation of a pediatric rare tumor is not uniform among international groups, as follows:
Most cancers in subgroup XI are either melanomas or thyroid cancer, with other types accounting for only 1.3% of cancers in children aged 0 to 14 years and 5.3% of cancers in adolescents aged 15 to 19 years.
These rare cancers are extremely challenging to study because of the low number of patients with any individual diagnosis, the predominance of rare cancers in the adolescent population, and the lack of clinical trials for adolescents with rare cancers.
Information about these tumors may also be found in sources relevant to adults with cancer, such as the PDQ summary on Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (Adult) and adult Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors (Islet Cell Tumors) Treatment.
Solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas, also known as Frantz tumor, is the most common pediatric pancreatic tumor, accounting for up to 70% of cases in most institutional series.[1,2] This tumor has low malignant potential and most commonly affects females of reproductive age (median age, 21 years), with a predilection for Black people and East Asian people.[2,3,4] There is no known genetic or hormonal factor to explain the strong female predilection, although it has been noted that all tumors express progesterone receptors.
Histology and Molecular Features
Histologically, solid pseudopapillary tumors of the pancreas are characterized by a combination of solid, pseudopapillary, and cystic changes. The fragility of the vascular supply leads to secondary degenerative changes and cystic areas of hemorrhage and necrosis. The cells surrounding the hyalinized fibrovascular stalks form the pseudopapillae. A highly specific, paranuclear, dot-like immunoreactivity pattern for CD99 has been described. Mutations in the CTNNB1 gene have been identified in more than 90% of these tumors.
Solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas is a very friable tumor, and tumor rupture and hemoperitoneum have been reported.[2,3,4] Tumors can occur throughout the pancreas and are often exophytic. On imaging, the mass shows typical cystic and solid components, with intratumoral hemorrhage and a fibrous capsule. A retrospective review of the National Cancer Database identified 21 pediatric patients (younger than 18 years) and 348 adult patients with solid pseudopapillary neoplasm of the pancreas. When compared with their adult counterparts, children with solid pseudopapillary neoplasms had similar disease severity at presentation, received similar treatments, and experienced equivalent postoperative outcomes.
The outcome of solid pseudopapillary tumors of the pancreas is excellent, with 10-year survival rates exceeding 95%.
Treatment of Solid Pseudopapillary Tumor of the Pancreas
Treatment options for solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas include the following:
Treatment of solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas is surgical; however, preoperative and operative spillage is not unusual. Whipple procedures (pancreaticoduodenectomy) are often necessary, but non-Whipple, pancreatic-sparing resections may be possible with a pancreatico-jejunostomy procedure. Surgery is usually curative, although local recurrences occur in 5% to 15% of cases. A retrospective review of the Italian Pediatric Rare Tumor Registry identified 43 pediatric patients diagnosed with solid pseudopapillary tumor of the pancreas between 2000 and 2018.[Level of evidence: 3iiA] The median age at diagnosis was 13.2 years (range, 7–18 years). Only one patient presented with metastatic disease. At follow-up (median, 8.4 years; range, 0–17 years), one recurrence occurred in a patient who had intraoperative rupture, and all patients were alive.
Metastatic disease, usually in the liver, may occur in up to 15% of cases.[2,3,4,5,6] Single-agent gemcitabine is reportedly effective in cases of unresectable or metastatic disease.
Incidence and Risk Factors
Pancreatoblastoma accounts for 10% to 20% of all pancreatic tumors during childhood. It is the most common pancreatic tumor of young children and typically presents in the first decade of life, with a median age at diagnosis of 5 years.[1,2]
Patients with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome have an increased risk of developing pancreatoblastoma. This syndrome is identified in up to 60% of cases of pancreatoblastoma developing during early infancy and in 5% of children developing pancreatoblastoma later in life. Pancreatoblastoma has also been associated with familial adenomatous polyposis syndromes.
Pancreatoblastoma is thought to arise from the persistence of the fetal analogue of pancreatic acinar cells. Pathology shows an epithelial neoplasm with an arrangement of acinar, trabecular, or solid formations separated by dense stromal bands. These tumors will often have activation of Wnt signaling (most commonly caused by somatic mutations in CTNNB1). IGF2 gene alterations have also been frequently observed in individuals with pancreatoblastoma. These findings suggest that pancreatoblastoma might result from the disruption of normal pancreas differentiation.[5,6]
Although approximately one-half of pancreatoblastoma cases originate in the head of the pancreas, jaundice is uncommon. Close to 80% of the tumors secrete alpha-fetoprotein, which can be used to measure response to therapy and monitor for recurrence. In some cases, the tumor may secrete adrenocorticotropic hormone or antidiuretic hormone, and patients may present with Cushing syndrome and the syndrome of inappropriate antidiuretic hormone secretion. Metastases are present in 30% to 40% of patients, usually involving liver, lungs, and lymph nodes.
Using a multimodality approach, close to 80% of patients can be cured.
Treatment of Pancreatoblastoma
Treatment options for pancreatoblastoma include the following:
The European Cooperative Study Group for Pediatric Rare Tumors within the PARTNER project (Paediatric Rare Tumours Network - European Registry) has published consensus guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of childhood pancreatoblastoma. Surgery is the mainstay treatment, and a complete surgical resection is required for cure. Because of the common origin in the head of the pancreas, a Whipple procedure is usually required.[8,9]
For large, unresectable, or metastatic tumors, preoperative chemotherapy is indicated. Pancreatoblastoma commonly responds to chemotherapy. A cisplatin-based regimen is usually recommended and the PLADO regimen, which includes cisplatin and doxorubicin, is most commonly used. Treatment is modeled after the management of hepatoblastoma, with two to three cycles of preoperative therapy, followed by resection and adjuvant chemotherapy.[2,4,10,11]
Although radiation therapy has been used for unresectable tumors and relapsed cases, its role in the treatment of microscopic disease after surgery has not been defined.
Response has been seen for patients with relapsed or persistent pancreatoblastoma treated with gemcitabine in one case  and vinorelbine and oral cyclophosphamide in two cases.
High-dose chemotherapy with autologous hematopoietic stem cell rescue has been reported to be effective in selected cases.[10,14]
Islet cell tumors represent approximately 15% of pediatric pancreatic tumors in most series.[1,2,3] These tumors usually present in middle age and may be associated with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1) syndrome. Less than 5% of islet cell tumors occur in children. (Refer to the PDQ summary on Childhood Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia [MEN] Syndromes Treatment for more information.)
The most common type of functioning islet cell tumor is insulinoma, followed by gastrinoma.
Nonfunctioning tumors are extremely rare in pediatrics, except when associated with MEN1 syndrome. Islet cell tumors are typically solitary; when multiple tumors are present, a diagnosis of MEN1 syndrome should be considered.
On imaging, these tumors are usually small and well defined. Somatostatin receptor scintigraphy is useful for the location of islet cell tumors; however, only 60% to 70% express somatostatin receptor.
Treatment of Islet Cell Tumors
Treatment options for islet cell tumors include the following:
Treatment of islet cell tumors includes medical therapy for control of the syndrome and complete surgical resection. For patients with malignant tumors and unresectable or metastatic disease, chemotherapy and mTOR inhibitors are recommended.
The management of these tumors in children follows the consensus guidelines established for adult patients.[3,6] (Refer to the PDQ summary on adult Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumors [Islet Cell Tumors] Treatment for more information.)
Pancreatic carcinomas (acinar cell carcinoma and ductal adenocarcinoma) are extremely rare in children. These malignancies represent less than 5% of pediatric pancreatic tumors and include the following:[1,2]
Refer to the following PDQ summaries for more information:
Presenting symptoms are nonspecific and are related to local tumor growth. However, 4% to 15% of adult patients with acinar cell carcinoma may present with a lipase hypersecretion syndrome, manifesting as peripheral polyarthropathy and painful subcutaneous nodules.
Treatment of Pancreatic Carcinoma
Refer to the PDQ summary on Pancreatic Cancer Treatment (Adult) for information about the treatment of pancreatic carcinoma.
Information about National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported clinical trials can be found on the NCI website. For information about clinical trials sponsored by other organizations, refer to the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
The following is an example of a national and/or institutional clinical trial that is currently being conducted:
Patients with tumors that have molecular variants addressed by treatment arms included in the trial will be offered treatment on Pediatric MATCH. Additional information can be obtained on the NCI website and ClinicalTrials.gov website.
The PDQ cancer information summaries are reviewed regularly and updated as new information becomes available. This section describes the latest changes made to this summary as of the date above.
Editorial changes were made to this summary.
This summary is written and maintained by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of NCI. The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or NIH. More information about summary policies and the role of the PDQ Editorial Boards in maintaining the PDQ summaries can be found on the About This PDQ Summary and PDQ® - NCI's Comprehensive Cancer Database pages.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary for health professionals provides comprehensive, peer-reviewed, evidence-based information about the treatment of pediatric pancreatic cancer. It is intended as a resource to inform and assist clinicians in the care of their patients. It does not provide formal guidelines or recommendations for making health care decisions.
Reviewers and Updates
This summary is reviewed regularly and updated as necessary by the PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board, which is editorially independent of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The summary reflects an independent review of the literature and does not represent a policy statement of NCI or the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Board members review recently published articles each month to determine whether an article should:
Changes to the summaries are made through a consensus process in which Board members evaluate the strength of the evidence in the published articles and determine how the article should be included in the summary.
The lead reviewers for Childhood Pancreatic Cancer Treatment are:
Any comments or questions about the summary content should be submitted to Cancer.gov through the NCI website's Email Us. Do not contact the individual Board Members with questions or comments about the summaries. Board members will not respond to individual inquiries.
Levels of Evidence
Some of the reference citations in this summary are accompanied by a level-of-evidence designation. These designations are intended to help readers assess the strength of the evidence supporting the use of specific interventions or approaches. The PDQ Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board uses a formal evidence ranking system in developing its level-of-evidence designations.
Permission to Use This Summary
PDQ is a registered trademark. Although the content of PDQ documents can be used freely as text, it cannot be identified as an NCI PDQ cancer information summary unless it is presented in its entirety and is regularly updated. However, an author would be permitted to write a sentence such as "NCI's PDQ cancer information summary about breast cancer prevention states the risks succinctly: [include excerpt from the summary]."
The preferred citation for this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Pediatric Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Childhood Pancreatic Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/pancreatic/hp/child-pancreatic-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>.
Images in this summary are used with permission of the author(s), artist, and/or publisher for use within the PDQ summaries only. Permission to use images outside the context of PDQ information must be obtained from the owner(s) and cannot be granted by the National Cancer Institute. Information about using the illustrations in this summary, along with many other cancer-related images, is available in Visuals Online, a collection of over 2,000 scientific images.
Based on the strength of the available evidence, treatment options may be described as either "standard" or "under clinical evaluation." These classifications should not be used as a basis for insurance reimbursement determinations. More information on insurance coverage is available on Cancer.gov on the Managing Cancer Care page.
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Last Revised: 2022-03-01
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