Dr. Francis P. Arena speaks at pancreatic cancer conference at the...

Dr. Francis P. Arena speaks at pancreatic cancer conference at the Garden City Hotel in Garden City on Saturday. Credit: Michael Owens

Armed with precision imaging technology and boasting new clinical trials, doctors at a Long Island forum defined the current period as a “golden era” for treating cancer of the pancreas as they underscored powerful themes of hope for patients and their families.

“If someone says there is nothing we can do, if you hear that — what should you do? Run. Run as fast as you can,” urged Dr. Francis P. Arena, organizer of the conference on pancreatic cancer Saturday at the Garden City Hotel.

Arena, a cancer specialist and director of the NYU Langone-Arena Oncology Center in Lake Success, advised an audience that included patients and their caregivers to eschew unfounded information about the disease that is widely peddled on the internet.

He also moderated a panel of cancer specialists from the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone in Manhattan and NYU Winthrop in Mineola who emphasized similar messages as they told patients about new treatment options and improved imaging technologies.

Cancer of the pancreas is often called a silent malignancy because it grows imperceptibly and too often is only detected in an advanced stage.

But a newly organized clinical trial titled Stand Up To Cancer, a multi-center research effort, is aimed at dramatically improving outcomes for patients, conference attendees were told.

“The trial is for locally advanced pancreatic cancer and it’s using a novel combination of drugs, including losartan, a medication that is used for high blood pressure ” said Dr. Diane M. Simeone, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center and associate director of Translational Research at NYU’s Perlmutter Cancer Center.

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Losartan belongs to a class of drugs known as angiotensin receptor blockers, or ARBs. They combat hypertension by blocking the action of angiotensin, a protein that constricts blood vessels, thus raising blood pressure.

In cancer therapy, the high blood pressure drug is being tested in combination with an immunotherapeutic agent called nivolumab to trigger apoptosis, or the programmed death of cancer cells. In short, the drug combination forces cancer cells to essentially commit suicide. The aim is to shrink tumors to render them amenable to surgery.

“There are several things that will be transformational,” Simeone said of treatment strategies emerging for patients with pancreatic cancer. In addition to her role at the Perlmutter Cancer Center, Simeone is on the board of advisers of the Lustgarten Foundation in Woodbury. The nonprofit provides funding and supports research involving the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of pancreatic cancer.

Patients and caregivers who questioned doctors and other experts at the conference said they found it uplifting.

Marilyn Shapiro of Floral Park, who came to the event in a wheelchair, said she was diagnosed with cancer of pancreas in 2016. “This has been very encouraging. I am a nurse by profession. That’s my background. So I was aware of all of the ominous information,” she said.

“This [conference] took a lot of the fear away. Right now, my cancer is stabilized, that means without progression. I hope to be here for the next one,” Shapiro said of the pancreatic cancer conference, which Arena hopes to make an annual event.

Arena also organizes the largest — and oldest — annual breast cancer conference on Long Island, which has been held each October for more than 30 years. This year marked the first meeting for patients with cancer of the pancreas.

Curtis Addison of Freeport, another patient, attended the conference with his wife, Terry Woods-Addison, with the hope of learning new information about the disease. Addison said he was successfully treated for pancreatic cancer.

“I was diagnosed last year and this has answered a lot of my questions,” Addison said of the individual forums held in the morning and the larger panel discussion conducted later in the day.

“So far so good,” he said of his progress, noting that he has had no signs of the disease since completing treatment.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 55,440 people in the United States 29,200 men and 26,240 women — will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year.

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