• The Neuroendocrine Tumors Unit has passed the strict European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (ENETS) audit
  • Because these are very complex cases, the patients require a multidisciplinary team
  • These rare tumors, with non-specific symptoms, are often not diagnosed for a long time

Barcelona, March 12, 2020.- Vall d’Hebron has received European Neuroendocrine Tumor Society (ENETS) certification as a center of excellence for treating neuroendocrine tumors. It is the first center in Spain to achieve this certification, which provides joint recognition for the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO). The certificate should have been presented to Dr. Jaume Capdevila, head of the neuroendocrine tumor unit at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and a researcher in the VHIO Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Group, at an awards ceremony at the 17th Annual ENETS Conference, which was due to be held in Barcelona this week, but because of the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19, this has taken place virtually. The principal investigator of the VHIO’s Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Unit is Dr. Teresa Macarulla, who is also an oncologist at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, and the unit is run by Dr. Josep Tabernero, head of the Medical Oncology Service at the same hospital and director of the VHIO.

Dr. Jaume Capdevila, head of the neuroendocrine tumor unit at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and a researcher in the VHIO Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Group

The ENETS is an independent medical body founded in 2004 with around 1,400 members from fields including oncology, radiology, nuclear medicine, endocrinology and surgery. “Endocrine tumors present many complex clinical problems requiring this multidisciplinary approach,” said Dr. Jaume Capdevila, chair of the Spanish Neuroendocrine and Endocrine Tumors Group (GETNE).

Vall d’Hebron had to pass an external audit assessing various aspects to achieve this accreditation. Centers must treat a minimum of 80 new patients a year with neuroendocrine digestive tumors, for example, and they must be highly active in research. “Vall d’Hebron can be considered one of the centers with the most research activity in this type of tumor and, in the last seven years, it has taken part in 26 clinical trials including more than 150 patients,” said Dr. Capdevila.

ENETS certification is the highest accolade for neuroendocrine tumors. It has been achieved with the help of the multidisciplinary, cross-departmental vision with which these tumors are dealt with at Vall d’Hebron. In terms of care, this takes the form of a committee made up of surgeons, experts in pathological anatomy, nuclear medicine and angiography specialists, and specialists in endocrinology, the digestive system, and, of course, medical oncology. For research, the expertise of the VHIO and its capacity to turn investigation into commercial products are essential. “The joint campus work, thanks to the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital and the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), allows the real translation of the pre-clinical and clinical research results into the leadership in this specialist area of clinical trials including large numbers of patients. I would like to stress the value of this certificate and, particularly, the importance of treating patients for such a complex, rare disease at a single reference center, where all the necessary expertise can be brought together with guarantees of excellence,” said Dr. Capdevila.

The importance of a center of excellence for early diagnosis
Neuroendocrine tumors are a diverse group of tumors, most often occurring in the pancreas or digestive tract, although they can arise in almost any organ of the body. They are a relatively rare type of tumor, with less than ten cases occurring per 100,000 people every year, although in the last few years there has been an increase in detections, largely due to better diagnostic techniques and identification of cases.

Although these tumors do not occur often, they are important because they can grow slowly and survive for a long time. In fact, they are the second most prevalent advanced neoplasia of the digestive tract after bowel cancer.

There is no way of preventing these tumors, because most of them are sporadic, with no apparent cause or known risk factors. “Nor are routine explorations carried out to diagnose the tumors early, bearing in mind that they are quite rare. Raising social awareness and providing information to doctors are the only measures that can be implemented today to achieve earlier diagnosis of the disease,” said Dr. Capdevila.

Because of their low frequency, slow growth and non-specific symptoms, there is a delay in diagnosis which can continue for several years. For this reason, it is important that the diagnosis and treatment of neuroendocrine tumors is carried out at specialist units like Vall d’Hebron, which has now achieved accreditation as a center of excellence.