Media talk at the World Pancreas Forum on February the 6th, 2020

Improved detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer provides hope

Pancreatic cancer is a serious disease. The absence of early symptoms delays diagnosis and complicates therapy. Furthermore, the aggressive tumor quickly spreads. New diagnostic and therapeutic approaches such as early metabolic indicators and genetic profiling as well as new systemic approaches such as immunotherapy are finally giving cause for hope and opening up new opportunities for those affected. These advances are the topic of the «World Pancreas Forum (WPF)» taking place today and tomorrow in Berne, where international experts present their latest research results. The scientific congress is to take place worldwide in the coming years – on an annual basis and alternately in Bern, Nanjing and Baltimore.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the most frequent causes of death from cancer. Two out of three people affected die in the first year after the disease has been diagnosed. On the one hand, the diagnosis is a challenge due to the lack of early symptoms, on the other hand, treatment concepts are difficult, especially if a tumor has already spread and formed metastases. State-of-the-art treatment currently includes surgical tumor removal and systemic chemotherapy, and for inoperable tumors palliative chemotherapy. New diagnostic and therapeutic approaches such as early metabolic indicators and genetic profiling and new systemic approaches such as immunotherapy are finally giving cause for hope and opening up new opportunities for those affected.

Intense search for new screening tests

Due to the lack of symptoms, pancreatic cancer is usually diagnosed too late. Therefore, researchers all over the world are urgently searching for markers that would enable an early screening. So is the team of Professor Suresh T. Chari of the Mayo Clinic. Because diabetes in pancreatic cancer occurs early and frequently, Chari's research is investigating diabetes-related markers. A marker for pancreas-associated diabetes could lead to an early diagnosis when a tumor would be still operable. Thus, affected patients would have better chances of treatment and survival.

The genetics offer a key for therapy

Thanks to DNA-sequencing, it is possible to decipher the genetic code of a person. Because gene mutations found in a tumor provide important information, this technique has found its way into cancer treatment. It is already the case today that the genetic tumor profile in colon cancer, skin cancer or various brain tumors guides to a personalized therapy. At the «World Pancreas Forum», Dr. Peter Bailey will present how his research group is using genomic analyses to identify molecular subtypes of pancreatic cancer. This has enabled the group to define molecular taxonomies that could help guiding the treatment of this type of cancer in the future.

Modern chemotherapeutics significantly change treatment

Researchers all over the world are simultaneously researching on new therapeutic approaches. The European Study Group for Pancreatic Cancer, which leads the international ESPAC studies, has provided important findings. Professor John Neoptolemos will present the most important results at this year's «World Pancreas Forum»: The ESPAC-4 study shows a 5-year survival rate of 30% for the combination of the chemotherapeutic agents’ gemcitabine and capecitabine. In patients without lymph node involvement, the survival rate increases to almost 50%. The new chemotherapeutic agent mFOLFIRINOX can also achieve a 5-year survival rate of 50%.

Different treatment lines when surgery is not possible

Important advantages have been achieved in the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancer, as Professor Ulrich Güller explains in his presentation at the «World Pancreas Forum». On the one hand, there are more chemotherapeutic agents that are effective against pancreatic cancer. On the other hand, there is an even better understanding of the particularities of tumors that are suitable for targeted therapies. For example, BRCA mutated patients benefit from Olaparib administration.

Survival rates significantly improve when surgery and chemotherapy are combined

Pancreatic cancer is not just a Swiss issue – it is a global task. A director of one the world's largest pancreas centers will speak at the congress about his experience: Professor Markus W. Büchler from Heidelberg, Germany. Though mortality is still high, substantial improvements in therapy of pancreatic cancer have been made over the last thirty years. Today, surgery in combination with oncological therapy can offer curative treatment to more patients than ever before and 5-year survival rates have increased from under 5% in the 1980s to more than 50% in modern treatment studies.

«World Pancreas Forum» to be the most important international congress for pancreatic cancer

Scientific exchange is crucial for progress, which is why the Swiss Pancreas Foundation has been hosting the «World Pancreas Forum (WPF)» for several years. Up to 300 international experts will meet at the congress again this year. This scientific event, initiated by Professor Kaspar Z'graggen, is to take place worldwide in the coming years –on an annual basis and alternately in Bern, Nanjing and Baltimore. Similar to the WEF in Davos, the forum will now become the most important global congress in this field.

- Media release (German)
- Media release (English)

The experts at the media talk