In the collective imagination, having pancreatic cancer is equivalent to a condemnation, but this is not true for at least two reasons. Professor Alessandro Zerbi, Head of Pancreatic Surgery at Humanitas, spoke about this topic in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

“First of all, a pancreatic tumor is not pancreatic cancer, which is a more aggressive disease than other types of cancer and for which things are changing a little thanks to the improvements brought about by the new radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

It should also be noted that there are many cancers that are not pancreatic cancers, but have a different histology and that arise from different cells of the pancreas such as endocrine and cystic tumors; they are always pancreatic cancers, but have a completely different prognosis from that of pancreatic cancer, absolutely favorable in some cases. For these two reasons (different tumors and new drugs) it is not true that pancreatic cancer is always a condemnation,” explained Prof. Zerbi.


What are the risk factors to be considered?

“Risk factors often affect our lifestyle and are common to other types of cancer, such as cigarette smoking, which is the main cause of pancreatic cancer, a diet high in animal fats and exposure to industrial carcinogens. In a way, family history is also a risk factor: those who know that they belong to these groups can be included in more frequent screening and control programmes, possibly leading to earlier diagnosis”.


How do you treat pancreatic cancer today?

“In general, all pancreatic cancers recognize surgical removal as the primary treatment, except in special cases. Pancreatic cancer, which is the most frequent and the most worrying type, is treated by combining surgical treatment, chemotherapy treatment and possibly radiation therapy treatment; this approach can lead to good results. In some cases it may be appropriate to start with chemotherapy and then to have the patient undergo surgery later; in other cases, the opposite may be the case, in a more traditional way. However, the alliance of different therapies and a multidisciplinary approach are essential.

Much remains to be done, there is less progress than in other types of cancer, so the pancreatic cancer is still a cancer with a more unfavorable prognosis than others, but things are advancing and even the therapies are becoming a little more personalized and more focused on individual cases,” concludes Professor Zerbi.