07.28.10

Sheldon Urges his Colleagues to Support the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, almost every family in America has experienced the pain of a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer. Today, I want to tell the story of the Grimes family from West Greenwich, RI.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, nearly 4 in every 10 Rhode Islanders will develop cancer sometime during their life. In a State as small as ours, this means almost everyone has a friend or a family member who is affected by this disease. For those of us who have been touched by cancer, directly or indirectly, those are memorable emotions. In my family, both my mother and father died of cancer.

Survival rates have greatly increased for many forms of cancer, thanks to new technology. But one form of cancer has not seen the same progress, and that is pancreatic cancer. Janet Grimes recently wrote to me about her mother Muriel who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past April. Currently pancreatic cancer patients have about a 6-percent chance of living more than 5 years and about 75 percent die within the first year. These are dismal numbers.

Janet has watched this cancer deeply affect her mother's quality of life. Janet wrote me that her 82-year-old mother was active, sharp, vivacious, and living in her own home in North Carolina until this disease struck. Since then, Janet has had to move her mother to Rhode Island to care for her, taking a leave of absence from her work. In the past few months, her mother has lost 25 pounds, is frequently nauseated, and needs constant care. Janet is seeing all too clearly how devastating this disease can be. As I speak, it appears our thoughts and prayers need very much to be with the Grimes family.

Janet has authorized me to speak about what is happening in her family because she is concerned about pancreatic cancer research, that it suffers from a lack both of funding and of institutional focus, constituting less than 2 percent of the National Cancer Institute's research funding. According to the American Cancer Society, pancreatic cancer remains the fourth leading cause of cancer death overall. In fact, they estimate that in 2010, more than 43,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with this disease, and nearly 37,000 will die.

We may not yet be able to cure this terrible disease, but there are important steps we in Congress can take. I have introduced the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act to help address this funding and research gap. It is a bipartisan bill cosponsored by 20 colleagues, including 4 Republicans. It makes vital investments in research into new treatments and represents a strong Federal commitment to fight back against pancreatic cancer.

Specifically, this bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to design and implement an initiative to coordinate and promote pancreatic cancer research and increase physician and public awareness of the disease. It creates an interdisciplinary committee to guide pancreatic research activities, develop an annual strategic plan, and make recommendations regarding the prioritization and award of NIH grants for pancreatic cancer research. Finally, it authorizes an NIH grant program for research institutions to develop innovative compounds or technologies for prevention, early detection, or treatment with cancers with 5-year survival rates of less than 50 percent. And, of course, pancreatic cancer is well less than 50 percent.

It authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to designate two centers of research excellence focusing on pancreatic cancer research.

As I said, our thoughts and prayers this evening need to be with the Grimes family. Their story, however, is just one of many that my office has received calling for this much needed investment.

For these families and for others who will face the same dread diagnosis, we need to keep working toward advancing pancreatic research and awareness. I hope my colleagues will join me in support of this legislation.