Delivering a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer to a patient is never easy. The five-year survival rate hovers at the six percent mark, and 75 percent of patients lose their fight in the year. Many doctors feel that telling a patient they have cancer of the pancreas is often like delivering a death sentence. It is contrary to the best part of the medical delivery system – making patients well. Gastroenterology specialists often give this bad news, and it is uncomfortable.
Advances in pancreatic cancer have been too few for too long. Researchers -- many of them funded by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network -- are diligently looking closely at tumor biology in an effort to bring some illumination to this dark disease. Until more scientific breakthroughs reach the bedside, telling a patient that they have pancreatic cancer will continue to be difficult.
However, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) program is an immediate resource for patients that can make the conversations a bit easier. “I regularly tell my pancreatic cancer patients to get connected with a PALS Associate,” says Vincent Picozzi, MD, oncologist at Virginia Mason Medical Center. “This organization is unparalleled in the pancreatic cancer field. The patient support services provide so much comfort and hope to my patients, and the accurate database of clinical trials along with free personalized clinical trials searches cannot be found anywhere else in the United States,” Dr. Picozzi adds.
Asking a patient to contact the PALS program can have distinct advantages. Too often doctors diagnosing pancreatic cancer are at a loss for what they can offer a patient, other than a referral to an oncologist. The PALS program is an important resource, and can be used immediately after diagnosis by patients. PALS can help patients and their families better understand their particular diagnosis, provide many types of patient education materials, help prepare a patient with questions to ask at upcoming oncologist visits, provide a list of oncologists who specialize in pancreatic cancer if requested, and help patients understand the many treatment options that may be considered, including clinical trial participation and eligibility criteria. Some people are surviving this cancer and this supportive resource helps people with their passage through the medical and emotional stages.
Dr. Picozzi highlights further, “Doctors would like to spend hours with every patient, but it just isn’t possible. This is another reason I encourage patients to call PALS. My patients get one-on-one support, from the same person, each time they call. This compassionate organization helps me deliver better care because my patients are very informed, making the time I can spend with them more productive.”
Patient and Liaison Services (PALS) Associates at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network can be reached at 877-272-6226, Monday – Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time. Or by email at PALS@pancan.org. Visit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network website www.pancan.org to learn more.