A call for more pancreatic cancer research


This past weekend I attended the ASCO Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium in San Francisco. In addition to learning about advancements (and setbacks) and talking with researchers on colorectal, pancreatic, liver and gastric cancers, I also had the chance to talk to a few advocates, including Julie Fleshman, president of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and Anitra Talley, director of patient services and medical relations. As we were talking about the studies presented on pancreatic cancer that first day, Julie mentioned that pancreatic cancer is still one of the hardest to treat cancers, and more research dollars and studies are desperately needed. She then laid out their goal for 2020 -- to double the five-year survival rate of pancreatic cancer from 6 percent to 12 percent. While 12 percent may not seem an ambitious goal to some, those in the pancreatic cancer community know what a huge leap this would be. It's an admirable goal, especially when the rate of pancreatic cancer is increasing, but not survival. Included in their strategy is to increase the number of patients in clinical trials, which is probably around 3-5 percent. To do that, PanCan has designated January as National Pancreatic Cancer Clinical Trials Awareness Month. By increasing the number of patients in trials, research can move forward at a faster pace. While PanCan has helped patients find clinical trials before, they really wanted to focus on this aspect of research. Before January, PanCan's record of calls and emails asking about clinical trials was 154. "By the second week of January, we had 331, doubling our highest week ever," Julie said. I'll be interested in seeing how many inquiries they received the second half of the month.I also learned that PanCan, as well as the Lustgarten Foundation, are working with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on its first pancreatic cancer-specific meeting (Progress and Challenges) this summer, bringing researchers and clinicians together to devote three days to pancreatic cancer. PanCan has also brought in more than $4 million for research grants and awards to young investigators to study the disease. With an approach that focuses on both patients and researchers, I'm hoping that at my next GI meeting, I'll hear more good news.

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