CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the past few years, it seems that everything turns pink in October for breast cancer. You can't even turn on an NFL game without seeing every player decked out in pink.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that breast cancer and all other types of cancer are very serious and life-threatening. I've volunteered for the Relay for Life and know the serious effects of many other types of cancers. We can all be grateful that with early detection and much federal funding, the breast cancer cure rate has been steadily rising.
Can we please start shedding light on other cancers that affect lives in the United States? Lung, colon, pancreas and prostate cancers are also in the top five of the most deadly cancers. How many Americans know that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month? All of the other five major cancers have early screening available, but pancreatic cancer does not.
I know all too well about pancreatic cancer. In March 2006, my brother was diagnosed with this disease after months of misdiagnosis. After his diagnosis, I began reading about this horrific cancer and the more I read, the more dire statistics I uncovered. My brother was "lucky," if you can say that, because he lived 18 months after his diagnosis. Most people who receive his metastatic diagnosis, don't live as long. While we were so grateful for the 18 months we had with him, we also watched him suffer agonizing pain.
It is expected that 1,188 West Virginians will be diagnosed with this terrible disease in 2012. Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest -- the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the United States -- and is the only major cancer with a five-year survival rate in the single digits at just 6 percent.
We all know people who have died of pancreatic cancer -- and there are some notable U.S. victims including: actor Patrick Swayze, Super Bowl star Harvey Martin, actor Michael Landon, Apple founder Steve Jobs, to name a few.
As in my brother's case, when symptoms of pancreatic cancer present themselves, it is late-stage, and 74 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year, and 94 percent within the first five years.
The incidence and death rate for pancreatic cancer are increasing and pancreatic cancer is anticipated to move from the fourth to the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States by 2020, and possibly as early as 2015.
The federal government invests significantly less in pancreatic research than in any of the other leading cancer killers. Pancreatic cancer research constitutes only 2 percent of the National Cancer Institute's federal research funding, a figure far too low, given the severity of the disease, its mortality rate, and how little is known about how to arrest it.
Finally, there is some action on Capitol Hill related to this disease. On Sept. 19, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act (H.R. 733), formerly known as the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act. This bill requires the National Cancer Institute to create a long-term plan including evaluating its current efforts in the disease and making recommendations on ways to accelerate progress and improve outcomes. All three of West Virginia's House members were co-sponsors of this bill. I'm so proud of them.
The Senate version of this bill (S. 362) will be considered in this lame duck session of Congress. West Virginians, please contact Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. John D. Rockefeller to ask them to help pass this bill.
To learn more about this disease or the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act, go to www.pancan.org. Please join with me in making "purple" the new pink.
Fetty-Santilli lives at Philippi.