Pancreatic Cancer…. We have Been Waiting Too Long

Pancreatic Cancer continues to consume lives. This disease, which will affect 43,140 in this country in 2011, continues to be extraordinarily difficult to detect and equally difficult to cure.  It attacks and kills men slightly more the women.  It takes persons of all races and nationalities.   This cancer comes from the ducts of the pancreas and falls into a general class of cancers, known as adenocarcinomas.  Pancreatic cancer is increased in smokers, people that are obese, and about 10 percent of pancreatic cancer seems to run in families.  Diabetes is increased in people with pancreatic cancer, but it is not clear if this is the cause or effect. Intriguingly, people that take regular aspirin may have less pancreatic cancer. Real treatment breakthroughs have been a long time coming.  However, tonight I see two rays of hope, and while that does not make a sunrise, perhaps it is early dawn.

The wonderful star Patrick Swayze died of Pancreatic Cancer in September 2009.  We remember him for the fabulous closing dance in the 1987 movie, “Dirty Dancing.”  The core of that scene was an equally wonderful song, “The Time of My Life.”  Last weekend the author of that song, France Previte, was in town.  Previte, formally of the 1980s band Franke & the Knockouts, and a New Jersey native, won both an Academy and Golden Globe award for what many would describe as a love ballad for all time.  Now, working with Swayze’s widow, Lisa Niemi, Franke has released a special demo version of the original song, which also includes demos for other Previte songs Hungry Eyes, and Someone Like You. Proceeds from this CD/download go to the Patrick Swayze Pancreas Research Fund at Stanford Cancer Center ( For me it was comforting to think that some of the good works of Swayze’s life and legacy are going to fight a disease which is still causing so much suffering.

The second bit of good news I learned this week, was an important study released in the New England Journal of Medicine (  In a study of 342 patients, an aggressive relatively new chemotherapy treatment (FOLFIRINOX) almost doubles the survival in advanced Pancreatic Cancer over standard chemotherapy treatment (gemcitibine).  The treatment did have more side effects, but physicians are finding ways to limit those toxicities, allowing more patients to continue on therapy.  While not a cure, the reality that we are finally finding ways to use medicines to actually control and shrink the cancer is exciting and is a bit of hope.

In The Time of My Life, as a youthful, healthy Swayze dances, the music speaks of writing on the wall and a magical fantasy.  I hope that we are indeed starting to see writing which will spell the end of this disease, and the fantasy of cure will become a magical reality.


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