Medical Minute 8-30: Battling Pancreatic Cancer

By: Vanessa Welch Email
By: Vanessa Welch Email

"I don't take no blood pressure pills, no kinda medicine or nothing you know."

Working in his sweet potato field, 68-year-old Henry Hall has the energy of a man half his age. Every harvest marks another year that he's beaten the odds.

"Been seven years, eight months, 15 days..."

That's how long it's been since Henry had surgery for pancreatic cancer. He knows just how lucky he is.

"Probably one out of a million. I assumed that it just you know... wasn't my time," said Henry Hall.

For all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year survival rate is just 20 percent - five year survival, only four percent.

"And so there's something about this disease that is inherently more aggressive than many of the other cancers," said Hong Jin Kim, M.D., Associate Professor Section Chief Pancreatic and Hepatobiliary Surgery Chapel Hill School of Medicine, UNC.

UNC researchers are investigating a specific form of a protein called palladin --that shows up in pancreatic cancer tumors before the cancer starts to spread.

"And so that's very exciting because what it tells us is that this increased Palladin expression may actually be a marker for a very early stage in tumor development," said Carol Otey, Ph.D., Associate Professor Cell and Molecular Physiology UNC School of Medicine.

That protein, identified in a needle biopsy of the pancreas, could find cancers sooner. Early detection that could dramatically improve chances of survival.

"If we could do better at diagnosing it we really could extend lives," said Carol Otey, Ph.D.

As for Henry, he plans to keep on doing what's worked for him.

"I'm gonna work on it till the Lord takes me home."

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