A meeting with experts, specialists and patients dedicated to the pancreas: is ‘United against pancreatic cancer’, the event organized at the Congress Center of Humanitas on the afternoon of November 15 (from 14.30 to 17.30), on the occasion of the World Day of Pancreatic Cancer.
The event is organized by Humanitas, in collaboration with the Associazione Pazienti Codice Viola.
During the afternoon, several experts from Humanitas and other hospitals will take part, along with some patients who will bring their testimonies in the fight against pancreatic cancer.
It will be an opportunity to talk about the paths of diagnosis and treatment, genomics, nutrition as cancer prevention and the evolution of research, as well as giving voice to patients, their experiences and their questions.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in Europe and is set to increase, becoming the second most common cause of death from this disease in the coming years. Despite this, 64% of Europeans are virtually unaware of this disease and research allocates only 2% of European funds to these studies.
“Events such as World Day and how this initiative in Humanitas aims to raise people’s awareness of this issue can improve knowledge about early symptoms and promote greater sensitivity,” explained Prof. Alessandro Zerbi, Head of the Pancreatic Surgery Unit.
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Pancreatic cancer: risk factors
Among the main risk factors that lead to the development of pancreatic cancer there are “smoking, an unbalanced diet and too rich in animal fats, an unhealthy lifestyle”, explained Zerbi. In addition, people who already suffer from diabetes are more at risk, as well as those who have previous cases of pancreatic cancer in the family.
“Advancing age is also considered a risk factor, which increases above 60 years: it is a typical cancer of old age and develops especially in developed Western societies”, for reasons obviously related to lifestyle and diet.
Pancreatic cancer is a silent tumor that does not always have obvious symptoms, which is why it is one of those that have one of the highest mortality rates, despite the progress of treatment.
“We must be careful about the manifestation of jaundice, which is revealed by a yellow color of the skin,” explained the professor, “and sometimes to disorders such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or back pain. These symptoms are not ‘clear’ and characteristic, which is why we arrive at a late diagnosis; vague symptoms that can be underestimated by the patient delaying analysis and treatment.
As far as therapies are concerned, we proceed with both surgery and operations, as well as with chemotherapy: “the cases that can be operated on are usually a minority, about 20%-30% of patients”, explained Prof. Zerbi “and it is important that in these cases the operation is performed at centers specializing in this type of surgery. The rest of the cases are treated with cycles of chemotherapy, which is often administered in association with the surgery.
The importance of research
As already mentioned, only 2% of European funds are allocated to pancreatic cancer research, which is still very low compared to the number of cases that affect patients each year and the mortality rate.
“There is still a lot of work to be done,” explained the professor. “In particular, we would like to be able to identify the biomarkers needed for earlier diagnosis. Secondly, we should be able to better identify, from a biological point of view, the tumor of the pancreas. There are different types of cancer at a cellular and biological level; obviously depending on the type there can be different treatments. The goal is to move towards a greater ‘characterization’ of the tumor: it is not clear what distinguishes them; research is working hard on this to develop drugs and therapies that are increasingly targeted.
Allocating more funds to research also means carrying out an “increasingly close collaboration between clinicians and researchers who are in the laboratory: the greater the direct contact and exchange between them, and the research will be targeted based on what patients really need,” concluded Zerbi. “The clinical and research excellence is precisely to work side-by-side and reason together: this has added value that makes the difference in the results”.