Advocates Push For Breakthroughs In Pancreatic Cancer Research

pfapWherever America devotes resources miraculous breakthroughs are possible. We’re celebrating great strides made in fighting Breast, Prostate, and Colon cancers, for instance, with tests for early intervention and increasingly effective drugs. Those advances are the result of research and continuous funding.  This month hopes ride high that pancreatic cancer awareness will translate into more research for drugs or diagnostics to improve survivability from this ruthless killer well on it’s way to becoming the second leading cause of cancer deaths by 2020.

The pancreas helps digestion and aids the endocrine system by secreting enzymes and hormones, such as insulin, directly into our bloodstream.  Deep in our bodies and well connected to other major organs it’s surprisingly slow to signal cancer invasion. In fact science now believes pancreatic cancerous growth can continue up to eight years without our knowledge. It’s not until year ten, usually when a patient seeks medical advice for something thought to be minor or routine, that they’re shocked to discover a pancreatic cancer diagnosis and just months to live.

Swift passages from diagnosis to death hamper needed clinical trials and have stymied doctors who offer few treatments and lack early detection tests.  Recent high profile cases such as Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Luciano Pavoratti, and Nobelist Ralph Steinman have thrust this killer into the limelight. Hopes for medical progress ride on genomic breakthroughs and advances anticipated from The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act passed in January last year. The Act charges the National Cancer Institute (NCI) with evaluating and advancing research to identify prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic and other deadly cancers. In 2012 only 2% of the NCI’s budget was devoted to pancreatic cancer research though incidences were increasing dramatically.

The abrupt loss of loved ones caused by pancreatic cancer is inspiring a legion of surviving friends and family to fight back. Patrick Swayze’s wife Lisa Niemi told a major network, “My husband died almost three years ago, and the statistics are staying the same.  More people are being diagnosed and more are dying every year – and it needs to stop.”

John M and friends at 5K Dash

John M and friends at 5K Dash

Locally, that kind of resolve struck John M. after his father’s death. Now he co-produces, with the City of Redmond, the Redmond Derby Days 5K Dash donating all proceeds to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. His father, a gifted athlete and soft-spoken man, discovered he had pancreatic cancer when he saw his doctor for a follow up to kidney stones. He died a year later. Every spring since 2010 five hundred runners compete in the Dash. “I like running, so did Dad. Neither of us were competitive runners. We’re just competitive guys who like to run,” John M said. “Dad would probably feel uncomfortable having a whole event put on in his honor. But he would love to run in it with his family and friends and try to get a better finish year after year.”

In this season of hope and thankfulness there is so much for which we express gratitude.  Medical progress in fighting many cancers gives us encouragement to believe that greater awareness, more advocacy, and new research will soon create treatments for individuals and families hearing the shocking diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Please join us in waging hope today.


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