pancreaticIowans now have what’s billed as a “game-changing” new tool in trying to beat a cancer killer that’s known for being stealthy and fast-moving.

Melinda Thach, a volunteer with the Des Moines affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, says the survival rate for pancreatic cancer is only about 8 percent, and there’s no test or early detection method.

“We never really know how long people are going to be able to live after they’re diagnosed,” Thach says. “One of the problems with pancreatic cancer is that it is so difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are vague and the risk factors are general for any type of cancer.” Precision Promise is the first large-scale medical trial of its kind and it aims to “revolutionize” treatment for pancreatic cancer patients. One goal is to double survival rates by 2020.

“Precision Promise will help connect people with a clinical trial,” Thach says. “It’s initially available in 12 areas. Even if people aren’t close to one of those spots, they can get involved with a clinical trial if they contact the patient services part of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.”

The two closest participating medical centers to Iowa are in St. Louis and Chicago. The partnership aims to create a culture of cooperation and learning among clinicians, researchers and drug developers. Thach, who lives in Ames, got involved as a volunteer after losing her mother to pancreatic cancer.

“She was diagnosed and died a mere 13 days later,” Thach says. “That wasn’t really time to say goodbye. We had an idea she could start chemotherapy the next day which still was only expected to be palliative care. It really was spread too far to do anything about it by the time she was diagnosed.”

Symptoms can include: upset stomach, back pain, yellowing skin, weight loss, appetite loss, and a feeling of being full after only eating a little food. An estimated 580 Iowans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and 430 Iowans will die from it.

A PAN-CAN volunteer meeting is planned in Des Moines next Tuesday (October 11th) while Cedar Falls is holding a Purple Light event on November 6th.