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Fleshman: Beating Pancreatic Cancer Takes a Plan

American doctors, scientists and researchers have cemented their status as the best in the world. Their work has yielded significant progress in the larger battle against cancer.

Thanks to advances they have made in medicine and diagnostic technology, survival rates for many cancer patients have improved considerably. This is an achievement for all Americans to celebrate. Yet despite such progress, some diseases have proved much more challenging for the medical community. And at the top of that list is pancreatic cancer.

This year, more than 43,900 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Of those, an estimated 37,900 will lose their battle against this terrible disease. The five-year relative survival rate for pancreatic cancer is just 6 percent, compared with 67 percent for all other cancers. On average, 74 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis. These grim figures have remained more or less the same for the past 40 years.

For a person receiving a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, the news is akin to a death sentence. These patients and their families deserve better.

Unfortunately, the federal government does not have an adequate plan in place for defeating the disease. We do not have a national plan of action with regard to addressing pancreatic cancer, patients and their families have no way of tracking progress made by the National Cancer Institute, and doctors and scientists have no specific goals or benchmarks to meet.

You cannot defeat something as formidable as pancreatic cancer without a plan — it’s that simple. Imagine going into a battle and you’re outnumbered 10-1. You have no map and no battle plan to speak of. That’s what our researchers and scientists are facing. And they need help.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act was introduced at the beginning of the 112th Congress by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and has garnered the support of more than 240 Members from both parties. The bipartisan backers recognize the enormity of the challenges facing medical professionals fighting the disease.

The legislation would implement a five-year strategic plan and plot out a specific course of action against the disease with regular benchmarks, while allowing taxpayers to monitor the plan’s progress online. The legislation would also set up a cadre of doctors and scientist solely focused on the disease.

On Tuesday, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network will be hosting its annual Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. I will be joining hundreds of Americans who are committed to helping pancreatic cancer sufferers and their families fight and beat pancreatic cancer.

We’ll be asking Congress to give our medical community the tools necessary to increase the survival rate and give those with pancreatic cancer a chance when diagnosed. Together, we can pass this bill and have a positive effect on the lives of thousands of our fellow citizens.

Julie Fleshman serves president and CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

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