Surgeon Brings Personal Connection to Study of Pancreatic Cancer

As a specialist in pancreatic surgery, Clancy Clark, MD, is aware of how difficult cancer of the pancreas is to diagnose and treat, much less to cure. Clancy Clarke, MD

He's also seen how few resources there are for people with pancreatic cancer compared with other cancers, despite the fact that pancreatic cancer has the highest five-year mortality rate of any cancer in the United States. 

"We don't have programs or services in place that focus specifically on the quality of life of patients with pancreatic cancer,'' he says, noting that the major support group, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, was only founded in 1999. "The Komen Foundation has millions of people doing cancer walks. There's limited funding for pancreatic cancer on a national level.'' 

An attempt to learn more about the patterns of pancreatic cancer and needs of patients is behind a two-year research effort Clark  undertook with colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, where he previously worked. The analysis by Clark and his former colleagues of data collected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health is expected to be finished next spring.

Clark says the analysis is focused on quality-of-life issues that may ultimately help identify pancreatic cancer patients at higher risk for depression or similar problems. 

Clark has a personal connection to the disease. His grandfather died of pancreatic cancer in 1990. Like the majority of people who have pancreatic cancer, it was diagnosed too late for his grandfather to have surgery. He died within months, Clark says. 

His grandfather's death was one of the reasons he went into medicine, Clark says. He picked surgery as a specialty because "you change the life of people right away.'' 

His decision to leave the Mayo Clinic for Wake Forest Baptist Health was largely because of the strong multidisciplinary team in gastrointestinal diseases. 

 "The system here is really set up to take care of these patients,'' he says. "It's an opportunity for me to really build onto what they have and make it a focus for pancreas cancer.''

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Facts About Pancreatic Cancer

Just 6 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive after five years, the lowest survival rate among major cancers in the United States.

Last Updated: 11-12-2014
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