Prevention is fundamental in the fight against pancreatic cancer: smoking, alcohol, obesity, familiarity are the main risk factors
Prevention, early detection, plus science rhymes with better and more effective treatments. It is the message that accompanies the fight against cancer, but which becomes even more pressing for some forms of cancer that if recognized in time and treated in the best way can be better fought.
An example of this time-dependent strategy is pancreatic cancer. Therefore, early diagnosis is the only weapon in the fight against a disease that in Italy alone has over 14,000 new patients registered every year.
The treatment is "personalized"
The sooner the tumor is recognized, the better it can be dealt with, knowing that surgery in these cases must be taken into account, albeit as part of an increasingly tailored treatment based on the characteristics of the person and the tumor. What matters is to refer as soon as possible to the “high volume” centers that follow a sufficiently high number of patients, and to reach the operating table as soon as possible.
The surgery has a primary role in the fight against pancreatic cancer: survival five years after diagnosis can in fact go from 8% to 20-30% if the patient is operable.
"Surgery increases the chances of overcoming one of the most aggressive tumors – explains Sergio Alfieri, Director of the Gemelli Pancreas Surgical Center. The ongoing health emergency, caused by the new Sars-Cov-2, has overwhelmed and upset our National Health Service with a significant impact on cancer patients, especially on patients with pancreatic cancer who require an integrated approach in specialized centers ".
If on the one hand the surgery is the winning card, on the other hand it cannot be separated from targeted and personalized therapies. Numerous steps forward have been made by scientific research in recent years. Cancers of the pancreas make up about 4% of all newly diagnosed cancers.
"Today we are beginning to better understand the molecular identikit of this tumor and this opens the doors to future challenges – reports Giampaolo Tortora, Director of UOC Medical Oncology and of the Comprehensive Cancer Center in Rome. Several subgroups of pancreatic cancer have recently been identified that seem to have different sensitivities to available therapies and new drugs in development ”.
“Recent discoveries allow us to administer a new specific biological drug, after chemotherapy, to those with a particular genetic alteration, the BRCA mutation (8% of cases). Experts from our team have played an important role in these studies and are involved in the International Cancer Genome Consortium which is also sequencing the DNA of pancreatic tumors, among others. We are engaged in several projects that aim to modify the tumor microenvironment of the pancreas, an ally of the tumor, including the local injection of biological drugs to try to make the tumor sensitive to immunotherapy, currently ineffective in this tumor ".
Beware of risk factors
Playing in advance, with good habits, is possible. To remember this, highlighting the virtuous behaviors to be observed, is the initiative "Pancreatic cancer can be caught in time" campaign launched by the Pancreas Surgical Center of Gemelli in Rome and the Pancreatic Disease Research Center of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart to underline how the recognition of some alarm bells and risk factors are essential to promptly diagnose this pathology and make it operable.
Smoking, alcohol, obesity, diabetes and family history are the main factors that can contribute to the onset of pancreatic cancer: 25-30% of cases are caused by tobacco, while the consumption of alcoholic beverages can increase the likelihood of develop chronic pancreatitis (in 7 out of 10 cases) which predisposes to pancreatic adenocarcinoma. A diet rich in animal fats and refined sugars (12 percent of cancers is related to obesity) and the presence of diabetes are also targeted. In short: we focus on prevention, but above all let us remember that the diagnosis must arrive soon.