The Stony Brook Cancer Center, located on East campus. The center was recently named the first National Pancreas Foundation Center on Long Island. EFAL SAYED/STATESMAN FILE

The Stony Brook Cancer Center was recently named the first National Pancreas Foundation Center on Long Island. With this new designation, it joins a small group of only 37 other cancer centers and hospitals throughout the country.

The National Pancreas Foundation Center designation is given to cancer centers and hospitals that meet a stringent set of criteria created by the National Pancreas Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds research into all forms of pancreatic diseases. This criteria includes having a team of surgeons and physicians with different specialties that are dedicated to the treatment of pancreatic cancer, having the ability to conduct clinical trials for pancreatic cancer and having access to psychosocial support and a palliative care program for patients. The designation is used to indicate that a specific cancer center or hospital is committed to taking a multidisciplinary approach to the treatment of pancreas cancer and places a unique focus on bettering the patient’s overall quality of life as part of treatment.

“If I was here by myself, it would be impossible to meet the criteria,” Dr. Aaron Sasson, chief of surgical oncology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, said.  “You need a team of surgeons, a team of gastroenterologists, a team of medical oncologists, a team of radiologists, pathologists. And a lot of those components were here even before I arrived, but I think that we’ve been able to develop a greater interest in pancreas cancer and form a cohesive team.”

Sasson, in conjunction with other doctors and researchers, led the push to get the designation from the National Pancreas Foundation. “I think it’s important to let the people of Long Island, and Suffolk County in particular, know that we are a center committed and dedicated to the treatment of patients with pancreas cancer,” Sasson continued.

Pancreatic cancer is a particularly deadly cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be about 55,440 new pancreatic cancer cases in the United States in 2018 and 44,330 deaths due to the disease. Those 55,440 cases will account for about 3 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the United States; however, the 44,330 deaths will account for about 7 percent of the total number of deaths from cancer. The average five-year survival rate for all cancers is currently about 68 percent, according to the National Institutes of Health. For pancreatic cancer, the five-year survival rate is about 8.5 percent.

“What we have here is larger than just that designation because we have that core people providing the care for patients, but we also now interact with the scientists who are doing research, and it is that collaboration and interaction that is going to help us achieve our goals in battling this disease,” Sasson said.

Utilizing this sort of research to diagnose pancreas cancer early could lead to significantly higher survival rates for those suffering from the disease. In addition to being a National Pancreas Foundation Center for pancreatic cancer, Sasson and his colleagues have also received the National Pancreas Foundation Center designation for pancreatitis.

“The two of them together tells that we are an institution interested in the best possible treatment for both benign and malignant diseases of the pancreas,” Sasson said.

Another important figure in the push to get Stony Brook University Cancer Center designated as a National Pancreas Foundation Center was Dr. Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center. “Improving outcomes and quality of life for patients with pancreatic cancer is incredibly important. Stony Brook University Cancer Center is honored to be designated as a National Pancreas Foundation Center. We believe that our multidisciplinary approach to care, combined with cutting-edge research, will help to improve treatments for this difficult disease,” Hannun wrote.