This month marks twenty years since November was declared Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. Despite decades of awareness and activism, still little is known about how to detect or treat pancreatic cancer, a disease which the American Cancer Society estimates will claim the lives of over 47,000 Americans this year. In our state alone, an estimated 3,120 Texans will die from the disease in 2020.
These statistics are personal for me. Pancreatic cancer has claimed some of our community’s civic and political pioneers who I was lucky to count as friends. I’m thinking of Fort Worth business leader Nelson Rodriguez, the first President and Chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Erma Johnson Hadley, the first female African-American Chancellor of Tarrant County College. Another was my friend Dionne Bagsby, who became Texas’ first female African-American county commissioner with her election to the Tarrant County Commissioners Court. I’ve since been humbled to see their legacies continue to break new ground and glass ceilings for minorities and women across our state.
Last year, Texas had the third-highest number of pancreatic cancer diagnoses and deaths among all U.S. states. The disease has a 95% fatality rate and is so deadly because it’s so difficult to diagnose. During its early stages, when it would be most treatable, there are usually no symptoms, and the cancer is typically discovered at advanced stages after it has attacked other parts of the body. Men have a slightly higher likelihood of developing pancreatic cancer than women, and the incidence of pancreatic cancer among African-Americans is up to 70% higher than any other racial group in America. Our military veterans are also disproportionately affected by pancreatic cancer, especially those who served in Vietnam. Overall, advancements in both diagnosing and treating the disease have been elusive.
While medical experts expect pancreatic cancer to become the second-highest cause of American cancer deaths by 2030, I’m encouraged to see so much support in the crusade to change the course of pancreatic cancer. I recently pushed to secure $10 million for pancreatic cancer research in this fiscal year’s House Defense Appropriations bill, and work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure adequate funding each year for the fight against pancreatic cancer. I’m proud to work with groups like the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which I’ve met with repeatedly in Washington, to discuss funding for pancreatic cancer research and patient advocacy.
This year, I also joined another Fort Worth-area Congressional Representative, Marc Veasey, to introduce H.R. 5562. The bill would give the U.S. Postal Service facility on East Rosedale Street in Fort Worth a new name, one paying tribute to my friend and a Tarrant County trailblazer whose legacy continues to educate and inspire: the Dionne Phillips Bagsby Post Office Building. When it comes to something like pancreatic cancer, we’re all on the same team: the bill, which awaits a vote on the House floor, was cosponsored by the entire Texas delegation.
While today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day and November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, both occasions remind us of pancreatic cancer’s year-round threat. Increased awareness about the disease is one of the most important ways we can improve early recognition and reduce delays in diagnoses and treatment. Click here to learn more about pancreatic cancer and how you can join the fight to find a cure.