ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
People smile as they welcome Judge Van Newberry to the podium to proclaim the month of November National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at Western Baptist Hospital.
Raising purple glow lights into the air, family and friends remember their loved ones affected by pancreatic cancer during the Purple Light Vigil for Hope in November 2011. Throughout November, both Lourdes and Western Baptist hospitals will light up their exterior buildings with purple lights, the official color of pancreatic cancer awareness month.
ALLIE DOUGLASS | The Sun
Judge Van Newberry proclaims the month of November National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month at Western Baptist Hospital. To honor the month both Western Baptist and Lourdes Hospital are illuminated their buildings purple at night.
With an average five-year survival rate of less than 10 percent, pancreatic cancer remains the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the nation, a statistic that’s only predicted to climb within the next decade.
According to data from the National Cancer Institute, nearly 43,920 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year alone, while as many as 37,390 people are estimated to die from the malignancy.
Advocates speaking for awareness of the oft-forgotten cancer and medical professionals alike convened at Western Baptist Hospital on Nov. 1 to raise community perception around the cancer known for having little-to-no early detection, few treatment options and even smaller funding for research.
“This is a problem that affects the entire community,” said Carol Foreman, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network local representative, while speaking at Western Baptist.
“The incidence and death rate of cancer is decreasing, but pancreatic cancer is anticipated to move from the fourth- leading cause of cancer-related deaths to the second-leading cause by 2020 and possibly as early as 2015.”
Just as October was bathed in pink for breast cancer awareness, November took on a purple hue for National Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and on Nov. 1, McCracken County Judge-Executive Van Newberry issued a proclamation officially honoring the month locally.
In recognition of the month, both Western Baptist and Lourdes hospitals lit their exterior buildings purple at night.
“If we can get awareness out, we’re going to find ways to diagnose this disease earlier,” said Dr. Peter Locken, radiation oncologist at Western Baptist.
“We’re here to raise awareness, to get funding so we can fight this to bring the cure rate up in any way we can.”
Pancreatic cancer research receives only about 2 percent of National Cancer Institute funding, according to PANCAN.
The survival rate for the particular form of cancer is so low because people afflicted with the malignancy usually don’t express any symptoms in early stages, and nonspecific or varied symptoms in later stages, such as sudden weight loss, upper abdominal pain, nausea and jaundice.
Foreman said only eight weeks after her father was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2010, he died from the malignancy.
“He never had a chance to fight this disease,” she told the audience. “I was appalled to learn my father was diagnosed with a cancer with no early detection method, with limited treatment options and the lowest survival rate of all cancers.”
Unlike other cancers where routine screening techniques — mammograms or colonoscopies — can catch the telltale signs of a tumor early, the location of the pancreas inside the body makes it difficult to determine tumor development until the cancer has already spread.
PANCAN does highlight multiple risk factors that can lead to the development of pancreatic cancer: smoking can double the risk of a person developing the cancer; a family history of pancreatic cancer in a mother, father, sibling or child, doubles or triples a person’s risk; diabetes doubles the chance for development; obesity and physical inactivity could put a person at a heightened risk; and the frequency of the cancer increases with age.
For more information on pancreatic cancer, visit the website for PANCAN at www.pancan.org.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.