Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: Addressing the Unmet Needs of the Pancreatic Cancer Community

Mindy Kaling, actress, writer, producer and director, partners with PanCAN to share her story about losing her mother to pancreatic cancer this Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month


Pancreatic cancer is one of the most challenging cancers with one of the worst survival rates of all common cancers. In the U.S. this year, it is expected that more than 57,600 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – that is more than 158 people each day – and over 45,750 people will die of this disease.

Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is difficult, as often there are no symptoms, tumors often can’t be seen or felt because the pancreas is located deep within the body, and the disease has the potential to spread quickly. Or, if there are symptoms, they frequently are also associated with many benign conditions. These symptoms can include weight loss, loss of appetite, back pain or abdominal pain, jaundice, gallbladder or liver enlargement, and blood clots.

Though some improvement has been seen in recent years with the introduction of targeted treatments for certain types of pancreatic cancer, there is still much work to do: only 10% of patients with pancreatic cancer and 3% of patients with advanced (metastatic) disease survive more than five years after diagnosis. Compounding the challenge is that to date, the causes of pancreatic cancer are not well understood, although certain risk factors such as smoking, diabetes, obesity and chronic pancreatitis have been identified.

Historically, people with advanced pancreatic cancer have faced poor outcomes due to the aggressive nature of the disease and limited treatment advancements compared to other tumor types. Yet as we mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to focus on the progress being made. Through dedicated research and development, there is cause for optimism when it comes to this often-fatal cancer.

In pancreatic adenocarcinoma, for example, the most common type of exocrine tumors that account for 95% of pancreatic cancers, we’re seeing the emergence of selective targeted therapies that target specific genetic mutations associated with metastatic pancreatic cancer. We also know that certain genes, including BRCA1/2, PRSS1 and CDKN2A, are predictive biomarkers for metastatic pancreatic cancer, and have the potential to guide treatment decisions, improve treatment outcomes and help to identify familial risk. As a result, biomarkers have now been shown to play an increasingly important role in developing a treatment plan with targeted therapies, an important component in the management of care for pancreatic cancer patients.

This knowledge would not be possible without rigorous scientific investigation and innovation, which are crucial to addressing the unmet needs of people with pancreatic cancer. In that spirit, AstraZeneca is proud to partner with researchers and the patient community throughout the clinical trial process. By working together, we can continue to push boundaries and deliver life-changing treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.

Nonprofit organizations, such as the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) can also play an important role in advancing innovative research and supporting the community. Founded in 1999, PanCAN supports and advocates on behalf of pancreatic cancer patients, caregivers and communities. PanCAN works to improve outcomes for patients by attacking pancreatic cancer on all fronts including clinical initiatives, advocacy, and patient and caregiver services.

Through their patient services, PanCAN provides more resources and speaks with more pancreatic cancer patients and caregivers than any other organization in the world. Patients can receive free, in-depth personalized information on pancreatic cancer from the organization’s highlight trained, compassionate Associates, who are available by phone or email, along with numerous links to resources for any questions patients may have about the disease.

PanCAN also continues to work alongside key thought leaders and celebrity activists such as actress/writer/producer Mindy Kaling, who lost her mother to pancreatic cancer in 2012, to raise much needed awareness and funds to fight the disease. Mindy’s support has helped to spread awareness of the challenges that come with this hard-to-treat disease, not just for the patients who have been diagnosed, but for their loved ones as well.

As this November is both Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and National Family Caregiver Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize everyone fighting for better outcomes with pancreatic cancer. This month PanCAN released a PSA where Mindy advocates for support for research that advances early detections and treatments. Check it out here.