The National Pancreas Foundation has recognized a multidisciplinary team at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and Banner – University Medical Center Tucson for their ability to handle complex care of patients suffering from pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and related diseases by accrediting the hospital as one of 30 new NPF Centers nationally and the only one in Arizona.

“We are honored that our academic medical center has been designated an NPF Center for treatment of pancreatitis,” said Tom Dickson, CEO, Banner – UMC Tucson and South. “Having the NPF Center designation will help distinguish our hospital as an institution whose focus is on providing the best and most innovative care possible.”

The gastroenterologist who led the accreditation effort, John T. Cunningham, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, said the most common medical cases seen at Banner – UMC Tucson involve endoscopic and surgical management of chronic pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that causes severe abdominal pain. The hospital also treats pancreatic cancer and is looking to reactivate its pancreas transplant program, which has been idle for two years.

The pancreas is a large gland behind the lower stomach that produces insulin and digestive enzymes. About 200,000 to 3 million U.S. cases of pancreatitis occur each year, according to the National Institutes of Health Library of Medicine and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pain may start suddenly and last for days or can occur over many years. More than three-quarters of cases are from alcohol use and gallstones — the most common cause of acute pancreatitis. Treatment may involve a few days in the hospital for intravenous fluids, medicine to relieve pain and nutritional support. Severe cases may require lifestyle changes, a special diet, taking enzymes and surgery.

About 50 to 75 pancreatic resection surgeries and Whipple procedures for pancreatic cancer are done each  year at Banner – UMC Tucson, as well as at least 100 endoscopic ultrasounds specifically to track pancreatic cystic neoplasms. This is out of 600-800 endoscopic ultrasound procedures annually.

“These are benign cysts that have low malignant potential, so we follow them,” Dr. Cunningham said. “That’s another common problem. I get at least one or two a week, including two today in clinic. The biggest thing that we’re seeing here are patients for endoscopic and surgical management of chronic pancreatitis.”

The new designation, he said, focuses on multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatitis, treating the “whole patient” with a focus on best-possible outcomes and improved quality of life. The criteria to be an approved NPF referral treatment center were developed by a team of outside experts and patient advocates and include having designated core personnel such as a program director, social workers, psychiatrists, dietitians, gastroenterologists, pathologists, interventional radiologists, endocrinologists, dietitians, pain specialists and pancreaticobiliary surgeons.

The arrival next month of Taylor Riall, MD, PhD, as professor and chief of the Division of General Surgery/Surgical Oncology, UA Department of Surgery, gives Banner – UMC a second surgeon specializing in that final qualifier. Dr. Cunningham said she was included as part of the team in the NPF Center application along with Tun Jie, MD, assistant professor and interim chief, Division of Abdominal Transplant Surgery, also a pancreaticobiliary surgeon.

“We have a long history of clinical and research strength in this area and having the NPF designation acknowledges our expertise,” said Leigh A. Neumayer, MD, professor and chair, UA Department of Surgery, and the Margaret E. and Fenton L. Maynard Endowed Chair in Breast Cancer Research.

Dr. Cunningham said others who played a key role in assuring the NPF Center designation (in addition to those pictured) include: Bhaskar Bannerjee, MD, professor and chief, Division of Gastroenterology, UA Department of Medicine; Emad Elquza, MD, UA assistant professor and co-interim chief for the UA Division of Hematology-Oncology, executive medical director of Oncology Services at Banner – UMC Tucson and associate director of clinical services for the UA Cancer Center; Diego Martin, MD, PhD, The Cosden Professor and chair, UA Department of Medical Imaging; and Charles Hennemeyer, MD, interventional radiologist and assistant professor, medical imaging.