Today, more people survive cancer than die from it.
Unfortunately there are some cancers that this isn't true for - the ones that we in the research community call 'cancers of unmet need'. In episode 6 of Stand Up To Cancer: The Podcast we meet Yasmin, who lost her father to pancreatic cancer, perhaps the archetypal cancer of unmet need.
Listen to Yasmin's story here
Pancreatic cancer is notoriously hard to treat. As well as Yasmin's father, this is the cancer that famously took Patrick Swayze and Steve Jobs. In fact, less than one in a hundred people who get this disease survive it, something that hasn't improved since the 70's.
Part of the problem is that it is almost always diagnosed at an advanced stage, often after rogue cancer cells have wormed their way into other bits of the body. If you've ever attempted to get rid of particularly invasive weed, you'll appreciate how hard it is if the weed is tangled around other plants. This metaphor starts to give us a feel for how stubborn these cancers can be.
Another part of the problem is that we don't actually know what the problem is. Why are these cancers so stubborn? What makes them so tough? Answering these questions is vital if we are to turn the tide.
In this podcast we're joined by a scientific colossus, Gerard Evan, who leads Stand Up To Cancer's pancreatic cancer dream team. This transatlantic collaboration hope to smash this problematic disease using a combination of brilliant brain power and cutting-edge technology.
In the episode he elaborates on how pancreatic cancer is basically a wound that never heals. If you nick yourself with a razor, unbeknownst to you, intricate damage detection mechanisms instantly fire up. They begin an elegant - almost balletic - process where damaged cells are disassembled, the area is disinfected and then new cells start growing. To support these new cells, new blood vessels also grow and in just a few days you can't even see the original injury.
But what if these wound-healing mechanisms accidentally get triggered - and the on/off switch breaks in the process? Cells start growing and growing. Pretty soon there is nowhere for them to go. Thousands of cells start piling on top of one another, barging past other innocent bystander cells, and generally causing disruption. Left unchecked the consequences are fatal. This is what cancer is. And this is what Gerard and his team hope to target.
The work of Gerard and his dream team could be transformative. We won't stop this work until stories like Yasmin's are a thing of the past. To help us keep work like this alive, please head over to standuptocancer.org.uk for more information.
P.S. it's definitely worth having a read of Gerard's blog too.