Pancreatic cancer took the life of Jay Stern’s mother six years ago. He was 14 years old when his father died of melanoma in 1980.
“We didn’t have the knowledge and awareness of melanoma that we do right now,” Stern said. “Skin cancer is very common but if you catch it early you can mitigate it.”
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, according to the National Institutes of Health. More than 76,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2012, according to the American Cancer Society. The rates of melanoma have increased during the past 30 years. About 9,180 people are expected to die this year of melanoma.
Stern is a volunteer and Oklahoma City affiliate coordinator of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The network serves to advance research, support patients and create hope for patients, Stern said. He is also a Board of Advocates member of the Stephenson Cancer Center Board at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center campus in Oklahoma City.
“Our mission is to defeat cancer through cutting-edge research and patient-centered care,” said Dr. Robert Mannel, director of the Stephenson Cancer Center. “Here at the Stephenson Cancer Center our patients have options for the latest treatments and care right here in Oklahoma, close to home and family support.
“In fact, the Stephenson Cancer Center offers more clinical trials for more types of cancer than any cancer center in the state, providing patients with first access to new therapies.”
More than 300 clinical trials are conducted there, Stern said. It is the only National Cancer Institute designated center in Oklahoma. There are 66 NCI designated centers in the U.S.
The $120 million facility opened in 2011 with 120 Ph.D-level investigators providing laboratory, clinical and patient research. The center also provides comprehensive cancer care.
Soon, the Stephenson Cancer Center will be among the first in the world to offer proton therapy with a smaller, first-of-its-kind system newly approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
“You’re getting not just pharmacological care, oncology, radiation,” he said. “You’re getting nutritional counseling, psychological counseling, financial counseling and other wellness type counseling.”
Fifty percent of men and one in three women in Oklahoma will get cancer, Stern said. There are 18,000 new cancer cases diagnosed in Oklahoma every year and 7,500 deaths, he said.
“There is a lot of disparity in our mortality rates compared to a lot of other states,” Stern said.
Pancreatic cancer is especially dangerous with 74 percent of patients dying after diagnosis because there is a lack of early detection, Stern said. Pancreatic cancer is rarely detected before spreading to other parts of the body, he said. Ninety-four percent of pancreatic patients die within six years, he added.
The American Cancer Society estimates for 2012 project that about 43,920 people — 22,090 men and 21,830 women in the U.S. — will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. More than 37,390 people will die of pancreatic cancer this year, according to ACS. Rates of pancreatic cancer increased 1.5 percent per year since 2004.
“It is the least funded of all cancers and it’s the deadliest. Of the major cancer killers, they get 2 percent of the National Institutes of Health’s cancer budget,” said Stern, who has lobbied Congress to pass the Pancreatic Cancer Research Act (PCRA).
PCRA evolved into the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012 passed the House in September by an uncontested, bipartisan voice vote but has not been heard in the Senate.
The Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act provides a scientific framework for focusing on cancers with the lowest five-year survival rates, Stern said.
“I look forward to equally uncontroversial passage in the Senate soon. I recently lost a dear friend to pancreatic cancer, so I am well aware of its devastating effects,” said Congressman James Lankford, R-Edmond. “Physicians and researchers at the NIH and NCI work tirelessly to find cures to this and other types of cancers, and their efforts have already improved the lives of millions of sufferers and survivors.”
Lankford will face off in the Nov. 6 election with Edmond Democrat Tom Guild as well as two Independent candidates, Pat Martin of Jones and Robert T. Murphy of Norman.
“I am very pleased Congress has passed the law,” Guild said. “As a person who has lost two very close family members to the same form of deadly cancer, multiple myeloma, both my mother and my aunt, I really understand that this is one of those kinds things in terms of adequately funding cancer research.”
The federal government can do a lot of good in funding research to cure cancer and other deadly diseases, Guild said.
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