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Grim statistics aside, pancreatic cancer researchers look to the future

September 14, 2009 |  6:58 pm

Swayze With Patrick Swayze's death today comes a highly public reminder that the cure rate for pancreatic cancer is abysmal. This year, an estimated 42,470 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease. And an estimated 35,240 will die.

Smoking can increase risk, as can obesity, diabetes, family history and other factors. But there simply aren't obvious signs of the disease in its early stages, and detection can often come too late. (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer earlier this year; hers was indeed caught fairly early.)

The disease is broken down into two basic types: exocrine tumors and endocrine tumors, as the American Cancer Society explains. Exocrine tumors are the most common and are usually malignant. Endocrine tumors are much more rare and the malignancy rate is more complex. (Steve Jobs was diagnosed with the endocrine type several years ago.)

The National Cancer Institute offers a good overview of the disease. Of special note, it includes a link to clinical trials.

Besides studying genetic factors and trying to improve detection, researchers are trying to improve the effectiveness of the drugs now commonly used to treat cancer of the pancreas -- and to devise new therapies as well.

Here's an overview of new treatment approaches, according to the American Cancer Society. Included targeted therapies that attack only specific types of  cells or vessels, immune therapies that bolster the body's ability to fight the disease and more.

Similarly, the Lustgarten Foundation offers descriptions of the Pancreatic Cancer Genome Project and the Pancreatic Cancer Biomarker Initiative specifically. The former identified specific mutations and signaling pathways and is expected to shape research for years to come. The latter aims to find new detection and screening options.

For a truly impressive, or inspiring, database, there's this list of pancreatic cancer researchers and their projects, via the Pancreatic Cancer Research Map. It's searchable by investigator, area of research, state, etc.

And, for a sample of recent research into pancreatic cancer, the Pancreatic Cancer Research Center at Johns Hopkins University offers a selection of presentations.

All of which is to say, the work continues.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Patrick Swayze, diagnosed in 2008

Credit: Bryan Bedder /  Getty Images

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For more information also check out Resources and support for individuals and families battling pancreatic cancer.

I was really bumed to hear of Pat Swayze's passing. I underwent surgery and treatment for a different Cancer at Stanford, around the same time Patrick was there. I never got to meet him while I was there. But one thing I can tell
you is, if they couldn't save one could! If I had decided to stay in Reno for my treatments, I would be dead or dying, right now! And my Cancer,
H.D.G.C., is also a very deadly Cancer! All the good people at Stanford University Hospital & Cancer Center saved my life!!!

This is a very sad loss to the entertainment industry. Patrick Swayze's films moved a lot of people around the world. I just wish the medical profession would look into a low cost effective therapy, Low Dose Naltrexone and offer it as front line treatment. There's about 100,000 people around the world using this, with such positive results. I lost my mother 4 years ago to cancer (brain, primary being lung). I just wish I knew about it then. Please go to for more information or join us on the lowdosenaltrexone yahoo groups. This really could help save your life! For anyone suffering from pancreatic cancer in particular, do look up Dr Burt Berkson's work treating pancreatic cancer with LDN and Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA).

RIP Patrick Swazye! you were loved by many and will be missed. CONTINUE PATRICK'S COURAGEOUS FIGHT AGAINST PANCREATIC CANCER and support The Lustgarten Foundation.

One Hundred Percent Of All Donations Will Go Directly To Research.
Cablevision Systems Corporation, a leading media and entertainment company underwrites all of The Lustgarten Foundation's administrative costs to ensure that 100% of every dollar raised will go directly to pancreatic cancer research. Visit to learn more about the campaign.

Dear Tami,

Thank you so much for this article and for bringing to light the devastating nature of this disease. Please also note that this January, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network introduced the first substantial piece of legislation to Congress with the potential to dramatically change the face of this disease. It is called the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act (HR 745). A bold and necessary step to changing the grim statistics that have existed for far too long with this disease. If you are interested in being a part of a change that can really make a difference, click here: By taking just five minutes to contact your representative (all available through the website), you will be making a big difference for those who have been affected by the disease and those who will be in the future.

Of course smoking is the number 1 risk factor for everything from tooth decay to lung cancer, however as the smoking rate decreases rapidly, there seems to be an increase in "exotic" cancers we never heard of years ago. Brain tumors, pancreatic cancer, certain lymphomas are in the news weekly at least. Many of them are related to endocrine or hormonal or environmental factors. Are the second-hand effects of medicating our food supply killing us? Increasing rf devices saturating the airwaves? One woman I know just had a "growth" removed from inside an artery - huh?

I would like to remind readers they can help medical science with their own computers at home! This is now possible due to today's technology and lots of regular people joining together.

Please check the two following non-profit sites that will put your computer's unused energy to work on finding cures:


This is real science done 100% by your computer. Please join us, and thanks!

I was deeply saddened by the death of Patrick Swayze. It really hit home with me because I am a pancreatic cancer survivor. It has been almost 8 years since I was given a death sentence of 3 months. I have been through 3 surgeries, radiation, chemo and experimental drugs. It has been a rough road but I have made it thus far. There are other pancreatic cancer survivors who are out here with me.
Patrick Swayze was a brave warrior, hopefully his death will not be in vain. There is hope to beat this beast!!!

For film goers of my age Patrick Swayze was the epitomy of vibrancy, soul and energy.Hey and sex appeal - you all agree thee girls don't you ? He made you believe in the character and the role. That's what films all about. Dirty Dancing, is ofcourse the one everyone knows and quite rightly so, has become an iconic film and will remain so for generations to come. Think the Oscars should do a Dirty Dancing tribute to him.
My sister has been recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and we are fund raising to get her cyberknife. She, like me was a fan of the man and the actor.
He lost his fight but his fighting spirit lives on.
Our thoughts and love go to his wife and family members.
'Nobody puts Baby in the corner', well no one will forget Patrick Swayze !
Going to watch the film again now and will boogey and sing my heart out.

Sorry neighbours but the sound will be loud !

Besides smoking, there are several other factors that put you at an increased risk. Read this article for ways to protect yourself against Pancreatic Cancer:


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