Last month, Steve Jobs' death from pancreatic cancer made international headlines -- but what we didn't hear about is the estimated 3,900 Canadians who will also die from the disease this year. In fact, most Canadians don't know all that much about this deadly cancer, according to a new poll -- and that could have serious consequences for future research.
The poll was conducted by Ipsos Reid as part of the Ipsos Charity Trust's pancreatic-cancer initiative during Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The survey questioned 1,012 adults through online interviews between October 17 and 25. The goal: to start a conversation about this mysterious disease.
If you don't know much about this form of cancer, you're not alone. Only 31 per cent of respondents claim to be "knowledge about the disease" and another six per cent say they are "very knowledgeable" -- that's fewer than four in 10 people who are aware of the disease. To put that number in perspective, 75 per cent of respondents say they're knowledgeable about breast cancer and nearly 70 per cent say they're knowledgeable about lung cancer.
And while the majority of people reported knowing someone who has survived breast cancer or prostate cancer, only six per cent of respondents could say the same about pancreatic cancer -- a fact which could contribute to our lack of awareness.
People also underestimate just how deadly pancreatic cancer is. Respondents predicted the five-year survival rate was around 27 per cent. In reality, that number is only six per cent -- the remaining 94 per cent won't survive five years after their diagnosis. In fact, three quarters of patients will die within the first year, says the Canadian Cancer Society and Pancreatic Cancer Canada. (Compare that to the 88 per cent five-year survival rate for breast cancer and the 96 per cent survival rate for prostate cancer.)
Worse yet, unlike breast cancer and prostate cancer, the survival rate for pancreatic cancer hasn't improved much over the past forty years. Currently, the prognosis looks pretty bleak for the estimated 4,100 people who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, people have about a 1 in 79 chance of developing the disease during their lifetime.
Why does awareness matter? People often donate to causes they're knowledgeable about or that has touched someone they know. While donations aren't the only source of cash, organizations often base their funding on public perception.
"It's a real worry that it's a disease that is so deadly, and arguably the deadliest of the cancers in terms of the survival rate," said Mike Colledge, president of Ipsos Reid public affairs, in an article in the Vancouver Sun. "People don't know about it, people aren't aware of it, and without that, there's not a lot of hope to make gains in terms of awareness and funding on the medical side."
The Ipsos Reid poll found that more than half of respondents (56 per cent) felt that donations should go into big pool for all types of cancer and that researchers should decide where the money is most needed. The remaining 44 per cent feel that people should continue to donate to research for whichever kind of cancer they choose -- even if lesser known cancers get overlooked.
Just how bleak is the current funding situation? Though it is considered one of the deadliest forms of cancer, researchers receive little support compared to other types of cancer. Despite the low odds of surviving the disease, there is hope to be found in new research and treatments.
"When I was diagnosed, the doctors already knew something about the genetic connection to my disease. That's why they were able to give me personalized treatment that saved my life. They are looking for other genetic mutations and markers that will lead to better treatment for other people, and save other lives," Libby Znaimer, a pancreatic cancer survivor and spokesperson for Pancreatic Cancer Canada, told 50PLUS.com.
"Right now, pancreatic cancer gets only 1% of research funds and less than a tenth of a percent of cancer donations. The research takes money - so [we] must raise awareness and cash to find new treatments."
New treatments are already in the works. Just this week, a new drug called Folfirinox was approved for treating pancreatic cancer. Hopefully, with more awareness and funding we'll one day see more good news -- and more lives saved.
ON THE WEB
Read the press release from Ipsos Reid.
For more information, see Pancreatic cancer: A primer.
Additional sources: The Canadian Cancer Society, Pancreatic Cancer Canada.
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