Unfortunately, according to an alarming report recently released by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, pancreatic cancer has not benefited from these medical advances. Today, there continues to be no early detection tool or effective treatment for pancreatic cancer. The result is that pancreatic cancer is the only one of the top cancer killers with a five-year relative survival rate in the single digits, at six percent.
These grim statistics underscore the unacceptable lack of hope that exists for pancreatic cancer patients and their families. According to the report, pancreatic cancer is the only one of the current top five cancer killers for which both the incidence rate and death rate have increased in recent years. Based on the changing demographics of the U.S. population and changes in the incidence rate and death rate, the number of new cases of pancreatic cancer will increase more than 2-fold and the number of deaths will increase by 2.4-fold by the year 2030. As a result, pancreatic cancer deaths will surpass the number of deaths from breast and colorectal cancer and be second only to lung cancer by 2020.
American scientists are the best in the world and have risen to the occasion time and time again. They can do so again with pancreatic cancer, but we have to help them. Right now, our scientists lack a comprehensive plan to effectively fight this deadly disease. How can we win this fight without a plan?
We now have the opportunity to change the future for pancreatic cancer. The Pancreatic Cancer Research & Education Act (S. 362/HR 733) is currently before Congress. The bill requires the National Cancer Institute develop a long-term, comprehensive plan to address pancreatic cancer. More specifically, the legislation would help lead to the development of early detection methods and effective treatment options, which are currently lacking. The bill has already garnered broad, bipartisan support in both houses of Congress: nearly 60 Senators and more than 280 Members of Congress have signed on.
We can defeat this horrible disease, but we can’t do so without a real, actionable plan. If Congress finally takes action and passes this legislation, future patients will finally have what has been almost nonexistent for so long: hope.
Dr. Maitra, M.D. is the chair of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Scientific Advisory Board.