Pancreatic cancer is considered largely incurable. The five-year survival rate is only 8%. Doctors at Nebraska Medicine and researchers throughout the country are working to change that. They hope a collaborative study will eventually pinpoint ways to detect the disease sooner.
Dr. Kelsey Klute, an oncologist at Nebraska Medicine, told us, "only 20% of patients are diagnosed with pancreas cancer at a point when it's considered surgically resectable." In other words, pancreatic cancer typically does not reveal itself through symptoms until it has spread too far to treat.
74-year-old Joann Lierz of Lincoln comes to Omaha for treatment. Her case of pancreatic cancer was caught quite early, and she is receiving treatment. She is one of ten siblings. Her brother died of the disease years ago, and she has sisters who have had pancreatic cysts.
Since there is an increased risk in Lierz's family, many of her relatives have agreed to take part in a study at Nebraska Medicine. It involves some health history questions and blood draws.
Health centers across the country are taking part too. They're asking people with an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer to take part. Those with an identified increased risk include people with a family history, those with pancreatic cysts or people with new-onset diabetes.
"It's one of the most collaborative groups in medicine that I've ever seen. I think people who treat this disease are just ready to be done with it, and they don't care who gets the credit for it," Dr. Klute said.
The hope is to create a database of people and hopefully use their information to identify a way to better screen for the disease in the future.
Those taking part in the study say they are more than willing to play a part in potentially making a difference for the next generation and beyond, "hopefully one day we'll get rid of cancer altogether, and I'd like to be alive to see that day. We're going to do all we can until then," said participant Doug Lierz.