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Golfing legend joins UNMC officials in declaring ‘war’ on pancreatic cancer

Gary Player says he’s convinced researchers will find a cure for deadly disease
Posted at 5:26 PM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 18:26:02-04

OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Golf legend Gary Player joined officials of the University of Nebraska Medical Center on Tuesday in “declaring war” on pancreatic cancer.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said that many diseases have been attacked and conquered but that pancreatic cancer has eluded effective ways to detect it early and treat it effectively.

The idea that it is an incurable disease and that a diagnosis is a “death warrant” must change, Gold, Player and others said at a news conference.

 “We are officially declaring a state of open warfare today,” Gold said.

‘We can’t say ‘can’t’ ‘

“We’ve got to have perseverance. We can’t say ‘can’t.’ We have to believe we can do something,” said Player, who lost his mother to cancer at age 9 and lost his wife to pancreatic cancer.

 Also attending the news conference at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center was Dr. Sunil Hingorani, an internationally recognized pancreatic cancer researcher and clinician, who will become first director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center of Excellence at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine on July 1.

Hingorani, who had been working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle before being lured to UNMC, said one of the first questions Gold asked him during the interview process was “am I serious about curing pancreatic cancer.”

The doctor said that’s the reason he came to Omaha.

Pessimism has been barrier

“The number one barrier (to curing pancreatic cancer) has been pessimism,” Hingorani said. “It’s been the lack of belief that you can change it.”

The statistics are daunting: Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and is known as one of the most lethal and aggressive forms of cancer. About 62,000 new cases are expected in 2022. The overall five-year survival rate is 5.1%, and for patients whose cancer has spread to other organs, the survival rate is 1.8%.

Gold said research at UNMC will continue to focus on early detection of pancreatic cancer, as well as more effective treatments and preventative measures.

Toward that end, the Nebraska Legislature this year directed an additional $15 million in research funds for UNMC’s pancreatic cancer program, an amount that will be matched by private donations.

Testing program unique

That is on top of more than $8 million in annual grants from the National Cancer Institute to probe pancreatic cancer. As part of its research, UNMC has a unique testing program, testing individuals twice a year, at no cost, if they are considered at high risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

Gold and Hingorani said the new, one-time funding will enhance UNMC’s efforts to find new screening methods to detect pancreatic cancer and develop new therapies. The funding was championed by State Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, who lost his wife to pancreatic cancer.

Researchers ‘want it badly’

Player, now 86, has dedicated much of his life and career to raising funds to increase cancer research.

Most recently, he joined with another pro golfing great, Tom Watson, in hosting a golf tournament in October, the Berenberg Invitational, that raised $750,000.

Player said the U.S. is the greatest country on Earth but said its citizens need to devote more time and energy to their personal health and to avoid obesity. 

He said that after taking a tour of the Buffett Cancer Center on Monday, he left there convinced that researchers will find a cure for pancreatic cancer within the next generation.

“They will because they want it badly enough,” Player said.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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