Congress must renew commitment to 'Stomp on Pancreatic Cancer'

“You have pancreatic cancer.” Those four words will send a shiver up the spine of 46,000 Americans and their loved ones this year. The average American may not know how their pancreas works, how tumors grow, or why certain cancer types are more deadly than others. But ask someone on the street about pancreatic cancer, and they will most likely shudder.

Unfortunately, that reaction is spot on. Pancreatic cancer is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate still in the single digits – at just six percent. Sadly, three-quarters of patients will not live one year following diagnosis.

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The outlook for the future of pancreatic cancer isn’t much better. While overall cancer incidence and death rates are dropping, pancreatic cancer cases and deaths continue to increase. Further, and perhaps most shockingly, a Pancreatic Cancer Action Network study recently published in the journal Cancer Research, predicts that pancreatic cancer will jump from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by the year 2020.

In addition, a recent report released by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), State of Cancer Care in America: 2014, predicts that cancer will become the number one killer in the U.S. by the year 2030, further emphasizing the urgency of making progress against pancreatic cancer and other deadly cancers.

The good news is that we are not powerless to change these projections. While non-profit organizations like the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network are intensifying efforts to change the course of pancreatic cancer, we can’t do it alone. We need the federal government to join our efforts to "Stomp on Pancreatic Cancer" and step up federal funding for pancreatic cancer.

To that end, we applaud the Senate L-HHS Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee for making medical research at NIH and NCI a priority in the face of extraordinarily tight spending caps and for essentially filling the hole left by sequestration. Unfortunately, we have not yet dug out of the larger hole created by the last decade of flat or decreased budgets, leaving NIH spending power 20 percent below where it was more than a decade ago.  We hope that this is the start of a renewed commitment by Congress to make medical research a priority in FY2015 and beyond. 

The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has long advocated for increased federal support in an effort to improve patient outcomes. Due to these efforts, the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act was passed by Congress in 2012 and is now law. The statute requires the NCI to develop a scientific framework to conduct and support research for recalcitrant cancers, including pancreatic and lung. In February 2014, the NCI took a critical step in fulfilling the provisions of the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act when it unveiled the “Scientific Framework for Pancreatic Ductal Adenocarcinoma,” providing specific recommendations for moving forward on four research initiatives to develop early-detection methods, and new treatment approaches for pancreatic cancer. 

We must continue the momentum in the fight against pancreatic cancer. Congress needs to ensure that the NCI has sufficient resources to leverage the opportunities outlined in their report so that we can make meaningful progress toward improved survival for pancreatic cancer patients.

And, we urge Congress to continue to make medical research funding a priority by working toward the $5.26 billion for FY15 that is needed to start getting the NCI back on track and by repealing sequestration. In an effort to educate Congress on the growing threat of deadly cancers and the implications for policy makers, the Deadliest Cancers Coalition hosted a briefing on June 19 in collaboration with the new Congressional Caucus on the Deadliest Cancers which is co-chaired by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), David Reichert (R-Wash.), and Henry Waxman D-Calif.).

The pancreatic cancer scientific and clinical communities, as well as patients and families, stand ready and committed to Stomp on Pancreatic Cancer.

Fleshman is president and CEO of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.