Move over pink - make way for purple. November is National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network released a report in August that predicts pancreatic cancer will move from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by 2020. Both the incidence rate and the death rate of pancreatic cancer are increasing, in part due to the increasing numbers of older adults and minorities in the nation. It is also unfortunate that pancreatic cancer has a five-year relative survival rate of just six percent.
Why has pancreatic cancer been such a challenge? First of all, there are no early detection tools for pancreatic cancer. The pancreas is located deep within the body and is not routinely screened or imaged. There are currently no biomarkers, such as blood work, to help detect pancreatic cancer. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are nonspecific, so in most cases the disease is found in a late stage. Also treatment is a challenge, again because of the location of the pancreas, and because pancreatic tumors are complex and often resistant to current treatment modalities. Historically, funding for pancreatic cancer research lags significantly behind the other top five cancer killers. In fact, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the National Cancer Institute devotes only two percent of its total budget to pancreatic cancer - only one-third to one-sixth the amount dedicated to the other top cancer killers.
The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network set a goal in 2011 to double the pancreatic cancer survival rate by 2020. The United States House of Representatives passed the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, on September 19, which will require the NCI to create a long-term plan for pancreatic and other recalcitrant ("stubborn") cancers. This includes evaluating its current efforts related to the disease and making recommendations on ways to accelerate progress and improve outcomes. The legislation is now awaiting a vote in the Senate, and if passed, will require the president's signature in order to become law.
What can you do to help? Thank your representative for supporting this bill and contact your senators and urge them to support this bill as well. Help to increase awareness and raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Support those you know with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Treatment of pancreatic cancer, as with other cancers, requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Together we will win.