UNC doctors don purple for World Pancreatic Cancer Day, speak on new research

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Friday, November 22, 2019
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UNC doctors don purple for World Pancreatic Cancer Day

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- There was a sea of purple at UNC's Lineberger Cancer Center. Staff was wearing the hue be on their clothes, gloves or goggles. Doctors donned the color to bring awareness to pancreatic cancer while also fighting to find a cure.

"It can happen to anybody," said researcher Dr. Jen Jen Yeh.

November 21 is recognized as World Pancreatic Cancer Day.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the world's deadliest, with a 9 percent survival rate, the lowest survival rate among all major cancers according to UNC.

"Although patient survival has improved from 5% to 10% in the last decade, we still need to do better," said Yeh. "I in 10 patients will be able to live 5 years or longer."

Pancreatic cancer often doesn't cause any signs or symptoms in the early stages, which can make it hard to diagnose early.

Some symptoms include: abdominal and mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss, yellow skin or eyes new-onset diabetes, loss of appetite and digestive problems.

Jeopardy host Alex Trebek's diagnosis of the disease has helped spread global awareness.

"We are clearly moving forward, we just need to do a lot more and a lot faster," said Yeh.

UNC researchers recently found a common kind of chemotherapy combinations that patients turn to might not be the best path for a certain subtype of pancreatic cancer. Teams are now looking into other therapies that could work better.

The work is personal for one researcher; Kristen Bryant keeps framed pictures of her dad on her desk. Her father was diagnosed while she was still in medical school.

"He fought it with everything that he could..." said Bryant, a PhD scientist. "But eventually he just exhausted all the treatment options that there were."

She's taking her loss and hoping to help offer families.

"Obviously, I miss my dad a lot but the way that I keep his memory alive with me is just to continue this fight and I'm very happy to do the research that I'm doing," said Bryant.

While the process is slow, researchers say they are making strides.

"I think there's a lot more hope today than there was 10 years ago," said Yeh. "I can now tell a patient who I've either done surgery on has advanced disease that there is hope, there are treatment options that will work for them."