Marking the World Pancreatic Cancer Day on November 17th, Humanitas unveiled the New Center for Diseases of the Duodenum and Pancreas in Milan, Italy.

The goal, to provide a diagnosis and treatment plan based on a multidisciplinary approach. By providing an accurate diagnosis we can therefore offer better care. We spoke with three experts: Professor Alessandro Zerbi , responsible for Pancreatic Surgery, Dr. Silvia Carrara, Head of the Digestive Endoscopy Program team led by prof. Alessandro Repici and Dr. Carlo Carnaghi, oncologist.


Pancreatic cancer

“Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in Western countries. It is expected that by 2030 it will be the second leading cause after lung cancer” says Prof. Zerbi. While mortality from cancer overall in Europe is falling, mortality from pancreatic cancer is constantly on the rise. “These figures – said prof. Zerbi – are related to either a delayed diagnosis or a poor prognosis. If we take into account that despite the spread of pancreatic cancer in Western countries, research on pancreatic cancer receives less than 2% of all funding for cancer research in Europe, we realize how far we still need to go in research that can be translated to clinical results”.

Pancreatic cancer affects men and women equally, and the main risk factors are:

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Old age
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Family History


The Family component

Individuals with a family history of pancreatic cancer have an increased likelihood of becoming ill.

In this regard Humanitas, along with other centers in Italy, is conducting an observational study sponsored by AISP, the Italian Association for the Study of the Pancreas where Professor. Zerbi is president and Dr. Carrara is Secretary. “The hope is that through this study – explains the professor – you can propose screening tests for individuals that are genetically predisposed”.


Research in Humanitas

“Research at Humanitas is not only active in the area of adeno carcinoma of the pancreas, but also on cystic tumors,” says Dr. Carrara. “Today cystic tumors are diagnosed more frequently thanks to improvements in imaging techniques. Among the active study protocol at our institution we include participation in an Italian Registry promoted by AISP on cystic tumors in collaboration with an international study for research on cystic tumors”.

“There are also basic research studies, which assess all the possible correlations between the biological behavior of tumors, prognosis, and new therapies”, adds Professor Zerbi.

“It is important to promote research in this area to expand the possibilities for therapy,” concludes Dr. Carnaghi.


The importance of a multidisciplinary center

Our pancreas is a complex organ and the home for various types of diseases. Hence the need for a multidisciplinary center. Here we can bring together various specialists to provide accurate diagnosis and therefore better care for the patient.

The professionals that make up the Centre are: the radiologist, gastroenterologist, endoscopist, surgeon, oncologist, radio-therapist, nuclear medicine physician and the pathologist.

To date, Pancreatic diseases are a major cause of mortality. “In high-volume centers the operative mortality is around 2%, while in those where there are not as many interventions it is about 10%,” says Prof. Zerbi. He concludes with saying “this shows how experience, organization, and targeted treatments offer greater life expectancy for the patient”.


A network of partnerships

The Centre for Pancreatic and Duodenum Diseases offers a fruitful collaboration between the Humanitas centers spread throughout Italy.

The advantages are many for both patients and doctors:

  • patients can enjoy easy access to diagnostic and therapeutic options through facilitated access;
  • the general practitioners and specialists of other organisations may require a comparison and a consultation if a difficult case to solve appears;
  • finally, it will be easier screen for those predisposed to pancreatic cancer due to their family history by having access to epidemiological data on pancreatic tumors


Also focusing on the duodenum

The new Humanitas Center is not just about the Pancreas. The center was also created to study the duodenum because “the duodenum is an organ we often forget about” says Prof. Zerbi.

“Duodenum cancer is much rarer than the pancreas, but it is easier to treat, and the results of treatment are better than those for the pancreas,” says Dr. Carnaghi.

“The duodenum is home to rare diseases that are less severe than those in the pancreas, but equally complex to treat. However, the diagnostic and therapeutic skills related to the duodenum often overlap with those of the pancreas. The similarities between the two bodies, in fact, are not only anatomical and symptomatic, but also diagnostic and in regards to treatment”, concludes Professor. Zerbi.