Like many of the 2,000 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in Australia, 67 year-old Christine Lindsay had no idea anything was really wrong.
After a bad bout of heartburn, she visited her GP. The cautious GP ordered an ultrasound and when the results came back, further tests were ordered. The follow-up CAT scan confirmed pancreatic cancer, with secondary cancer in the liver.
The news was life changing. Within a week, Christine had gone from believing she had a minor ailment to dealing with the shocking diagnosis of a terminal cancer.
“It was scary,” Christine recalled. “You want to keep it to yourself, but you can’t.”
QIMR Berghofer researcher, Dr Nicole Cloonan, said one of the difficulties with pancreatic cancer is that it often has no obvious symptoms.
“The symptoms are very nonspecific, such as being overly tired, or having a sore back. Most people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer only discover they have it when it is
Pancreatic cancer is most common in people over the age of 60. By the time it is diagnosed, it has often spread to nearby organs and lymph nodes. It is the fourth most common cause of cancer death in developed countries.
“Only half of those diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will survive the first six months. By five years, the survival rate is only five per cent,” Dr Cloonan said.
“We still don’t know what causes it, or how to stop it. But we do know it spreads quickly, giving little opportunity to test various treatments.”
Dr Cloonan’s current research, under the umbrella of genome biology, aims to explore whether treatments which have been effective in other cancers, can also work for pancreatic
She is keen to progress research into a particular molecule known as microRNA. Found in all plants and animals, microRNAs regulate gene expression and play a vital part in
influencing the pathways responsible for many disease processes.
By better understanding exactly their biological role, she believes the door could open to more effective treatments.
“While many other cancers have improved, the odds of surviving pancreatic cancer haven’t changed in 40 years. It’s why investing in pancreatic cancer research is essential,” Dr Cloonan said.
“The right treatment may already exist. We just need the funding to run research trialling the effectiveness of these treatments specifically against pancreatic cancer.”
While Christine knows the odds, she trusts her doctors to guide her cancer journey.
“I have an amazing doctor, and I’m trusting him to tell me what’s best. I have never asked him ‘how long?’ It’s not something I want to focus on,” Christine said.
“You’ve got to play the cards that you’re dealt. You can’t pick and choose. If this is my future, my time, then I’m not frightened of that. “I just need to make the most of the
time I have left.”