Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest of all cancers, and right now, surgery is the only chance for a cure. Even with surgery, there's only a 25-35% success rate, but a new cancer fighting drug may be on the horizon.
68-year-old Ed Kolenkiewicz didn't feel sick, but when he started losing lots of weight, his friends took notice. "I juandiced. I turned yellow and my buddy says you better do something. I was unaware of it," he said.
Ed's diagnosis was grim. He has pancreatic cancer, the fourth leading cancer killer in the U.S.
Dr. Ana Niewiarowska says that 50% of the patients from the time of diagnosis die from pancreatic cancer after only three to four months.
The pancreas lies deep inside the body, behind the stomach, so doctors generally cannot see or feel tumors on a routine exam. By the time you have symptoms, it's usually too late. "It hit me like a ton of bricks. I never expected it," says Ed.
He enrolled in a study for Virulizin. It's an experimental drug that stimulates the immune system to kill tumor cells. He gets an injection along with standard chemotherapy treatment. It could be the study drug or placebo. "I just try to live one day at a time," he says.
Ideally, the drug will help patients feel well and live longer. "The whole idea of modern oncology is to give the treatment which is very effective for cancer and the least toxic for the patient," says Dr. Kolenkiewicz.
Virulizin may turn out to be that treatment. The FDA has put it on the fast track to approval. Each year, pancreatic cancer strikes just over 30,000 Americans and about the same number die. There are early detection methods for patients without symptoms. Risk factors include smoking, family history, exposure to chemicals, and poor diet.