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Patrick Swayze’s Widow Calls for More Pancreatic Cancer Research

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The wife of the late actor Patrick Swayze held a news conference on Capitol Hill in mid-February, 2011 to urge greater Congressional attention and federal resources for pancreatic cancer, the disease that killed her husband in 2009.

Lisa Niemi Swayze answered, “It’s a mystery” when asked by reporters why pancreatic cancer, the nation’s fourth-leading cause of cancer deaths, lags behind other cancers in research funding.

Patrick lived only 22 months after being diagnosed, yet his survival time was well above the average. Pancreatic cancer is considered a “silent killer” because most patients don’t know they have it until it metastasizes. Three-quarters of pancreatic cancer patients die within a year.

Lisa said when her husband was diagnosed in March 2008, he told her, “I’m a dead man.” He died at age 57.

“For 40 years, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer has remained in the single digits (about 5 percent), despite an increase in the incidence of the disease and at a time when significant progress has been made on other cancers,” The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network President Julie Fleshman said.

With so few survivors of pancreatic cancer, Lisa told a room of friends and family members of the deceased, “right now, it's up to us.”

The Network released a report that concluded lagging federal funding and the low research priority has hurt survival rates. It cites pancreatic cancer research receives 2 percent of the federal dollars that the National Cancer Institute distributes and lags behind in nearly every important grant category funded by the federal government.

“The survival rate for pancreatic cancer has remained relatively the same because the federal government's approach to pancreatic cancer has been relatively the same: Provide a trickle of research funding as a response to a river of need,” Fleshman said.

Lisa appeared in Washington with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-R.I.), whose mother died of pancreatic cancer, and Rep. Leonard Lance, (R-N.J.), to support the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act, which was introduced in January 2009 in the House of Representatives (H.R. 745) and the Senate (S. 3320). The companion bills would give the disease a higher priority, even during tough fiscal times.

The Mayo Clinic's website reported that lifestyle and genetic factors can increase pancreatic cancer risk, including age (over age 60) personal or family history of pancreatic cancer, diabetes, being black, being overweight or obese, smoking, chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) or family history of genetic syndromes that can increase cancer risk, including a BRCA 2 gene mutation, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, Lynch syndrome and familial atypical mole-malignant melanoma.

Cancer Patients Alliance http://pancreatica.org/ and http://www.pancan.org/ The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network has more information on pancreatic cancer.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, she pens Nonsmoking Nation, a blog following global tobacco news and events.

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