Research of deadly disease needed

By Scott Strong

Our nation has some of the finest doctors and scientists in the world. Thanks to their hard work and expertise, we’re making real progress in the battle against many forms of cancer. In fact, survival rates for most cancers are improving; and new diagnostic techniques help doctors identify disease earlier and save more lives.

All cancers, however, are not created equal. Unfortunately, pancreatic cancer is unique; and it claimed an American icon this summer, former astronaut Sally Ride.

The statistics are staggering: 74 percent of all patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer die within the first year; and pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer that still has a 5-year relative survival rate in the single digits at just 6 percent. That statistic alone makes it worthy of our elected officials’ attention. We cannot sit idly by as this disease continues to claim lives.

Unlike the overall decline of new cancer cases, the incidence rates of pancreatic cancer are expected to increase by 55 percent between 2010 and 2030. With this in mind, sufficient planning and preparation is necessary to create a blueprint to find an early detection tool and effective treatment options for the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the USA. At present, there are no early detection methods or effective treatment options for pancreatic cancer. I am lucky to be a 4-year survivor; but thousands each year don’t have the opportunity to share in my good fortune.

More than 44,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2012; and more than 37,000 will die as a result of this terrible disease. Perhaps most shocking is that survival rates for pancreatic cancer have not improved meaningfully in the last four decades. As a patient I find this unacceptable. I wonder if Sally Ride would still be alive and contributing to the scientific community today if pancreatic cancer research funding mirrored those of other cancers over the last 40 years.

The time has come for Congress to step up to the plate and do what is right and necessary — pass pancreatic cancer legislation that will help increase relative survival rates.

Thankfully, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington are working to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research &Education Act (S. 362/ HR 733). This legislation would help improve survival by requiring our nation’s cancer research experts at the National Cancer Institute to create a long-term and comprehensive strategic plan against the disease. I suggest readers contact their Senators and Representatives in “the other Washington” and encourage them to pass this vital legislation.

The time has come to truly fight pancreatic cancer. Tell our elected officials to take a stand and to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research &Education Act this year.

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Scott Strong is the Operations Supervisor, Ambulatory Services Section of General, Thoracic and Vascular Surgery at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle.