Guest Column — Coons: We can beat pancreatic cancer if we work together

Pancreatic cancer is a cruel disease that not only impacts an individual, but also his or her whole family, and sometimes even an entire community. If you’re reading this, you already know that, though, because the fight against cancer is one that at some point has impacted each and every one of us. Every year, I hear from dozens of Delaware families who have been hurt by pancreatic cancer, and I’m reminded that we have a lot more work ahead of us in finding a cure.

My family is no different. We lost my dad a year ago after a three-month battle with pancreatic cancer. While his passing still weighs heavily on my heart, I’m driven to work harder for increased research funding and better outcomes for all families as a result.

Though it accounts for just 3 percent of all cancers, pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. In 2018 alone, 55,440 Americans will be diagnosed and 44,330 will die from the disease. The cancer’s five-year survival rate remains at 9 percent, making it the only major cancer in our country with a survival rate consistently in the single digits.

The good news is that we know what needs to be done: more trials, more tests and more research.

Plain and simple, cancer research is how we save lives. It’s how we develop better treatment options for patients and it’s how we develop new strategies for detecting cancer earlier and preventing life-shattering diagnoses.

In previous years, Congress has provided funding of $152 million for pancreatic cancer research specifically through the National Cancer Institute. While this is a great start, this funding pales in comparison to what is needed to truly make an impact.

Just a few months ago, though, Republicans and Democrats worked together to secure a $2 billion increase in funding for the National Institutes of Health. The National Cancer Institute received more than $5.7 billion this year, which was a $78 million increase from last year’s funding level.

These are important investments, but we must continue to fight for more. The millions we invest in pancreatic cancer research seems like a huge expenditure, but it falls short compared to the health care and human cost of the more than 44,000 pancreatic cancer fatalities per year.

While we know that a cure may still be far off, there has been progress made in other cancers. Investing in prevention, screening and treatment have proven successful in drastically changing outcomes for patients.

That’s why I’ve fought tirelessly for funding for basic research, for applied research, and for disease research, because I’m convinced that without this funding, we don’t have hope.

So this month, which is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, I’m re-doubling my efforts to end pancreatic cancer and support the necessary research we need to get the job done, once and for all.

Facing a terrible disease like this can seem daunting or even hopeless, but the fact is that we can discover cures for the diseases and conditions that affect so many of our loved ones. We can end pancreatic cancer, and we’re going to.

To do that, we’re going to dedicate the resources necessary toward finding a cure, and as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I’ll be doing my part to ensure those resources are in place.

Almost everyone knows what it’s like to lose a loved one or see their lives threatened by cancer. I experienced the pain of losing my friend and former pastor last year, who went from being a healthy, vibrant faith leader in his mid-50s to passing away just a month after diagnosis. I’ve also seen the blessing of a Delawarean who survived for a year and a half following his diagnosis.

As we mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, let’s think of our loved ones who’ve been touched by this or other similar diseases, hope and pray for a cure, and then get to work making it happen.

 

By Chris Coons

U.S. Senator (D-Del.)