Swimming’s Impact on Cancer Research

Photo courtesy Swim Across America via Facebook

Photo courtesy Swim Across America via Facebook

It may be hard to imagine, but swimming can definitely have a positive impact on cancer research, and both are happening right here in the Puget Sound region: on Lake Washington and on Lake Union at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). This September more than 400 swimmers will join forces with current and former Olympians to raise more than $300,000 for cancer research at SCCA for an event called Swim Across America—Seattle. This event is part of a nationwide, non-profit organization created in 1987 to raise funds and awareness for cancer research, prevention, and treatment through swimming.

Local Olympic athletes, researchers like myself, and community volunteers united in 2009 to bring Swim Across America to Seattle. Since then more than $1.5 million has been raised to support cellular therapy and pancreatic cancer research at SCCA, an organization that unites researchers and physicians from Fred Hutch, Seattle Children’s, and UW Medicine.

Just as the proper gear is essential for a good swim, the pancreas is essential to digestion, vitality, and life. The pancreas produces and releases enzymes to help us digest our food, and it produces hormones to control our blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, it can develop an incredibly hard-to-treat cancer. Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in this country and is predicted to be the second leading cause of cancer death in the future.

Currently there is no way to screen for pancreatic cancer. The very internal location of the pancreas next to vital structures makes it difficult to treat, even early on in the disease process. The good news is that research conducted over the last four decades is beginning to yield benefits.

Andrew L. Coveler, MD

Andrew L. Coveler, MD

Research through SCCA, and our alliance partners at Fred Hutch and the University of Washington, is essential to discovering more effective and novel treatment options for pancreatic cancer. The SCCA Pancreatic Cancer Specialty Clinic is an additional resource for patients and their families that provides access to not only an array of therapeutic options—such as leading-edge chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery—but also nutritional, spiritual and palliative care services following a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

Proceeds from Swim Across America—Seattle have directly supported SCCA research working to diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier. This includes isolating tumor cells or other biomarkers (substances) from the blood of early-stage patients to support identifying patients earlier or predict treatment response sooner.

On the lab side, the event has funded an SCCA project that uses a “confetti mouse” to help track pancreatic cancer cells in disease progression. It looks beautiful and provides a better understanding of what happens in the development of the disease, and ultimately, provides for a more effective treatment.

SCCA was formed, in part, to bring promising new treatments to patients faster. For people with pancreatic cancer, this may mean more treatment options at SCCA than you might find elsewhere, including the chance to participate in promising clinical trials. We are proud to be a pioneer in accelerating progress against cancer, with over 500 clinical trials in process to bring tomorrow’s treatment to our patients today.

We invite you to swim with us or consider volunteering: http://www.seattlecca.org/Swim-Across-America-Seattle.cfm. Virtual swimming opportunities are also available, and doing so is guaranteed to support continued progress in the fight against pancreatic cancer.

Andrew L. Coveler, MD is a medical oncologist who treats cancers of the gastrointestinal system, including the pancreas, and is director of the Pancreatic Cancer Specialty Clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

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