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"No one else should be told go home and die": A call for more pancreatic cancer research

Fighting pancreatic cancer
Advocates push for more funding for pancreatic cancer research 05:41

When Camille Moses was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 53 in 2012, she did not get good news from her physician. It's a notoriously dangerous form of cancer with a low survival rate.

"The first doctor who saw me told me to go home and die," Moses told CBS News. But now, after 34 rounds of chemotherapy, she is a 6-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and is advocating for others with the deadly disease.

Moses, along with 600 advocates from across the country, joined the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) for a day on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. The group is calling for Congress to increase the funding for research on one of the deadliest types of cancers.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 55,440 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States this year and 44,330 people will die from it.

Julie Fleshman, the president and CEO of PanCAN, says more research is necessary to save as many lives as possible from pancreatic cancer.

"We want to make sure that pancreatic cancer remains a national priority," she told CBS News. "The 5-year survival rate for the disease is only 9 percent. It's the third leading cause of cancer death in the United States and the only way to change those outcomes is to ensure that there are more research dollars being focused on pancreatic cancer."

Moses says her hope is that one day, no one else has to hear the words she heard when she was first diagnosed, which unfortunately, she says, still happens far too often. 

"No one else should be told to go home and die like I was," she said. 

"People contact me all the time and tell me they've been told to 'get your affairs in order.' I scream 'No! Don't listen to that doctor. Get out there and get a second opinion.' It's so important."

Identifying the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer is key to early diagnosis, which may mean a better potential for treatment to work. Unfortunately, many people don't experience noticeable symptoms until the cancer has already spread.

A new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that new onset diabetes in African-American and Hispanic men and women over the age of 50 may be an early indication of pancreatic cancer.

Fleshman says this finding is important.

"New onset diabetes is a symptom of pancreatic cancer. It doesn't mean that every person who gets new onset diabetes will get pancreatic cancer but some will," she said.

PanCAN is working on more research to better understand this connection and develop an early detection strategy for the disease.

"One of the problems is that we don't have an early detection test and so usually patients are diagnosed late and it's very difficult to treat at that point."

Other signs of pancreatic cancer may include:

  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored or greasy stools
  • Itchy skin
  • Stomach or back pain
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Gallbladder or liver enlargement
  • Blood clots

People who use tobacco, are overweight or obese, have a family history of pancreatic cancer, or have been heavily exposed to certain chemicals used in the dry cleaning and metal working industries, have an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer.

Men are slightly more likely to develop pancreatic cancer than women and African-Americans are slightly more likely than whites. The risk of developing pancreatic cancer goes up as people age. 

"We all need to listen to our bodies. When something doesn't feel right, you need to question it," Fleshman said. "You need to talk to your doctor and we certainly want to ensure that people understand what the symptoms and risk factors are for pancreatic cancer because the earlier you can get the diagnosis, the better we're going to be able to offer treatment options for those patients."

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