New Research Aims to Increase Pancreatic Cancer Survival Rates

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, affecting 1 in 79 Canadians with an average 6% survival rate. This year alone, 600 British Columbians will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and an estimated 400 will die from the disease. Pancreas Centre BC is dedicated to increasing survival rates by pursuing innovative ways of screening, treating and preventing pancreatic cancer.

Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous donor, the Centre has launched a new initiative – the Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer Biobank and Genetic Evaluation Program for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer. The goal behind this research project is to develop a simple blood test that could detect pancreatic cancer early enough to find effective targeted therapies so that more lives can be saved.

Through this partnership with VGH, UBC, BC Cancer Agency and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, the Pancreas Centre BC draws together world-class clinical, scientific and multi-disciplinary leaders to advance pancreatic cancer care and research.

“We exist because generous donors believe that research is the key that will unlock the mysteries of pancreatic cancer and save more lives.” — Pancreas Centre BC Team

Innovative Microscope Aids Researchers

Researchers with the Ovarian Cancer Research (OVCARE) program are using an innovative microscope to unravel the genetic changes that give rise to ovarian cancers and pinpoint when in the development of these cancers they begin to change and become dangerous.

The laser capture microdissection (LCM) system allows OVCARE researchers to capitalize on the team’s genomic prowess and helps accelerate the world leading ovarian cancer prevention program developed by VGH surgeon Dr. Dianne Miller. Much of this research requires the study of precursor lesions, which is difficult with standard techniques as these lesions are extremely small. The state-of-the art microscope enables the team to effectively isolate the cells of interest from the remaining cells in the tissue sample. This was an impossible task until the LCM was created.

“The LCM enables us to look for the genetic changes in individual or small numbers of cells that mark the beginning of cancer. We believe that understanding how cancer starts will lead to better prevention and treatment strategies. In our research the system is critical in determining whether we can use mutations as screening tools for ovarian cancer and when a woman should be considered at increased risk.” Dr. David Huntsman, Co-Director, OVCARE, VGH, BCCA

More than 2,500 Canadian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually; more than 1,700 die because of it. The LCM also benefits pancreatic cancer researchers to access molecular markers in bloodstreams, bypassing the need for surgical study. Understanding these lesions is key to developing a preventative approach.

Thank you to donors David and Darrell Mindell, Peter and Shelley O’Sullivan and the Jemini Foundation for helping fund the new LCM System.

Breathing Life Into Lung Cancer Detection

Any cancer is scary, but lung cancer is a particularly insidious disease – symptoms typically don’t occur until the cancer has spread. Because of this, the five-year survival rate is less than 18%. It’s not hard to imagine how many lives could be saved through an early detection screening program.

That was the inspiration behind a $1.2 million gift from philanthropists Emily and Jason Ko. Their transformational gift supports a Lung Cancer Screening Pilot Program at VGH. The pilot program pioneers a new model for lung cancer screening for British Columbians and is the first large scale pilot project of its kind in North America. The program hopes to lead to changes in clinical care and the formation of public policy in lung cancer screening and early detection.

CT scanners can help diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage, notes Dr. John Yee.

For Jason, a well-known business leader from Taiwan, this issue hits close to home. His wife, Emily, was a thoracic surgery Head Nurse and has seen first-hand the devastating effects of lung cancer, particularly in patients who had never smoked. This was one of the reasons why Jason and his family felt so compelled to act. “Lung cancer has affected many of my friends who are non-smokers and this was our way of helping save lives so that others can receive care earlier,” says Jason, who was inspired by the spirit of giving from his late mother. As successful immigrants, the Kos believe that their legacy is in sharing their wealth with the community and giving back to help others, a philosophy that they share with their family and employees at their company Viva Pharmaceutical.

“Lung cancer has affected many of my friends who are non-smokers and this was our way of helping save lives so that others can receive care earlier” – Jason and Emily Ko

Like other cancers, early detection can mean the difference between a treatable disease or palliative care. “We know that low-dose CT scans help diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage and can reduce lung cancer mortality by up to 20%,” says Dr. John Yee, Head of Thoracic Surgery at VGH and Director of the BC Lung Transplant Program. “There’s no question that our ability to detect lung cancer earlier will have a tremendous impact on people’s health.”

The screening program will enroll 2,000 high-risk individuals over a three-year period with a two-year follow-up. The study is international in scope and examines the value of inclusion of air pollution exposures for risk assessment. It also applies advanced computer technology with the goal of improving efficiency and accuracy of reading large number of screening CT scans, as well as decreasing unnecessary imaging studies or biopsies. The results are expected to help drive the development of a province-wide screening program and will contribute to the medical research community across Canada and globally, noted Dr. Stephen Lam, a specialist in lung cancer and co-leader of the Lung Cancer Screening Program.

With more than 1.6 million people worldwide dying each year from lung cancer, the impact of the Ko family’s generosity in funding this important screening program is truly global.

Mother and daughter battle the same cancer

At 91, nothing surprises me much.

When my daughter Isabel was diagnosed with endometrial cancer almost ten years ago, I couldn’t believe that her mortality could be more fragile than mine.

We still lived in the Philippines when I was Isabel’s age and I never learned much about this type of cancer. Through my daughter’s cancer journey, I understood that this type of cancer is quite common among women her age.

Dr Dianne Miller, gynaecologic oncologist, and her team at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) are the reason that Isabel is in remission today. It was so hard to watch my daughter go through surgery and then chemotherapy. But I knew that she was getting the best care possible at VGH.

Last year, I heard those same words, “You have cancer.” But this time, those words were for me.

It’s not something you hear every day—a daughter, then her mother, diagnosed with the same cancer almost 10 years apart.

Last year, I began experiencing the same symptoms Isabel had. We returned to Dr Miller because she was familiar with our family history. She shared with us that endometrial cancer is inherited about 10% of the time. Isabel’s cancer was diagnosed at a higher-stage than me, but it was the same cancer.

Like Isabel, Dr Miller and her team performed my surgery at VGH. I am just finishing my first year of follow-up and I still need to go for regular check-ups every three months, but am otherwise feeling great. Because I was diagnosed at an early stage, I do not need chemotherapy. My family owes so much to Dr Miller and the surgery team at VGH.

This year, I get to spend Mother’s Day with my daughter. Every occasion to spend time together reminds us both of how the vital care at VGH saved both of our lives.

I hope that you will take a moment to make a donation in honour of your mother or daughter this Mother’s Day.

Please click here to make a donation.

Click here to read part 1 of our story.

Bonded through adversity

My mom and I are very close.

Maybe it’s because of the close bond that immigrant families usually have. We came to Canada from the Philippines in the late 1980s, following my aunt who had just moved here. We fell in love with this city and proudly call Vancouver our home.

Like many others, we learned to appreciate the beauty and vibrant scenery of Vancouver. I also learned to be grateful for BC’s health care system, especially because of my unexpected health scare almost 10 years ago.

“You have cancer,” those words still echo in my mind sometimes.

I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Sometimes called uterine cancer, it is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs. I am now a statistic—along with 3,900 Canadian women who are diagnosed with this type of cancer every year.

My symptoms appeared during the early stages of the disease, but like most people I didn’t think anything of them at first. When I began to experience more symptoms, I went to Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and met gynaecologic oncologist, Dr Dianne Miller. At 53, I had my life-saving surgery at VGH; then, when I was strong enough, they supported me through a tough round of chemotherapy. I am so grateful to Dr Miller and her team for saving my life. I returned to work and cherish spending time with my family.

I never thought that our family would have to battle cancer again. After all, I’ve been cancer-free for over seven years thanks to the care I received. But last year, the cancer came back.

Only this time, it wasn’t me.

Click here to read part 2 of our story. 

Donors like you help health care professionals save lives like mine, every day. To support life-saving care, please make a donation today.


Young Donor Honours His Great-grandpa

Five-year-old James donates his birthday money in memory of his great-grandfather.

For his fifth birthday, James wanted money, not gifts. The money wasn’t for a special toy. James wanted to use it to remember his great-grandfather, “Papa,” who died from pancreatic cancer when James was three. He told his parents he wanted the doctors to use the money for a cure. He didn’t want anyone else to get sick like Papa.

With $5 of his own, plus funds he raised from friends and family, James donated $220 to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation in Papa’s memory, becoming its youngest donor.

His parents Samantha and Stephen, and grandmother Leanna – a clinical nurse educator at VGH – are very proud of him.

His gesture also touched great-grandmother “Nan,” who was married to Papa for 50 years.

In fact, the diagnosis of terminal cancer came just weeks after Nan and Papa had returned from a special 50th anniversary vacation. Less than two months after that diagnosis, Papa passed away.

“Pancreatic cancer is an often silent cancer,” says Leanna. “Most patients, like my dad, don’t know that they are sick until it is much too late.”

James’ donation will provide hope to other patients by improving early detection screening and treatment options and increasing survival rates.

You can be any age to donate in memory of a loved one. Learn more.

Fundraising to end blood disease

Dr. Michael Barnett showing the Warren family around the Hematology Research Program at VGH in August 2013.

The Warrens have set the bar high. They are hoping to raise $1-million for the Hematology Research Program (HRP) at VGH so that medical staff can continue to investigate cures for blood diseases. The family hopes for the day when no one else has to experience the loss they have suffered.

Chad Warren and his mother, Sandy, were both diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer that starts in the plasma cells in bone marrow. Chad worked with VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation to raise awareness of multiple myeloma and set the goal of raising enough money to sustain the program for several years.

After trying every treatment available, including two bone marrow transplants, Chad passed away in November 2009. A year later, Chad’s friends and family organized the first Chad Warren Charity Challenge event with funds raised directed to VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. The mixed doubles tennis tournament now takes place every fall at the Hollyburn Country Club in Chad’s memory.

The program has made great strides for patients since Chad and Sandy were diagnosed – and new treatments have kept Sandy’s cancer at bay for 13 years – but there is still no long-term treatment or cure for multiple myeloma.

Chad was 34 when he passed away, but his legacy lives on through this annual fundraising event. Over $700,000 has been raised to date which will help support blood cancer research and impact countless lives of patients and their families.

Interested in hosting your own fundraising event? Learn more 

Innovative lung cancer screening pilot program to launch at VGH

RS0_3832August 26, 2015 – Thanks to a $1.2-million-dollar gift from philanthropists Jason and Emily Ko, founders of Viva Pharmaceutical Inc., an innovative and potentially life saving lung cancer screening pilot program is launching at VGH.

More than 1.6 million people die from lung cancer each year, making it the most deadly cancer worldwide. In BC alone, an estimated 3,150 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and it will be responsible for 2,500 deaths.

The VGH Early Lung Cancer Screening Pilot Program will take its lead from a 2011 study at the US National Cancer Institute that showed a low-dose CT scan helps diagnose lung cancer at an earlier stage and can reduce lung cancer mortality by up to 20%.

“Similar to other cancers like prostate, breast and colorectal, early detection can mean the difference between a treatable disease or palliative care,” explains VGH respirologist, Dr. Stephen Lam, a renowned lung cancer specialist.

“The five-year survival for patients with lung cancer is less than 18% because most cases are diagnosed at a very late stage and the cancer has already spread throughout the body.”

The pilot program, drawing on the expertise of respiratory medicine, thoracic surgery and radiology, will pioneer a new model for lung cancer screening for British Columbians. It is the first large scale demonstration project of its kind in North America.

For Jason Ko, a successful business leader from Taiwan, this issue hits close to home. Lung cancer in people who have never smoked is especially prominent in Asian countries. In Taiwan, lung cancer mortality is highest in the world.

“Lung cancer is a cause that is very close to my heart,” says Ko. “Many of my friends, who were non-smokers, have been impacted by lung cancer. I wanted to give a gift that will impact people all over the world. My family and everyone at Viva Pharmaceuticals deeply believe in the philosophy of giving.”

Launching in 2016, the program’s goal is to enroll 2,000 high risk individuals over three years with a two-year follow-up thereafter. It is anticipated that results at the end of five years will drive the development of a province-wide program. In addition, learnings from the pilot will be disseminated to medical communities across the country, transforming early lung cancer detection across the globe.

“We are very grateful to Jason and Emily Ko and Viva Pharmaceutical, who have made this program possible at VGH,” says Angela Chapman, Senior VP of Philanthropy at VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation. “Our goal is to raise funds to support VCH’s vision of delivering innovative, transformational and sustainable healthcare and this program helps us achieve that.

To enroll in the program, patients can call 604-675-8088.

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Media Contacts:

Tiffany Kraus

Director, Marketing and Communications
VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation
604 875 5196 C. 778 952 6147


Donors Score a Home Run for Blood Cancer Care and Research

Community leaders John and Mitzi Cannon

John and Mitzi Cannon have become respected community leaders. They have not only given their time, but along with John’s talent in gaining the support of his long term business connections, and in addition to John and Mitzi’s financial donations, have assisted greatly – along with other donors – in the ongoing challenge to fund the Hematology Research Program (HRP) at VGH. The program makes available new medications for those people dealing with blood and bone marrow cancers.

After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001 and followed by a stem cell transplant in 2002, John was taken aback by the level of care and caring demonstrated by the complete team of hematologists and support staff at VGH. The decision was immediately made to give back wherever and whenever possible.

When first diagnosed with multiple myeloma there were only one or two drugs available to assist in the control of the disease. Today, thanks to the program, there are over 100 new medications being researched for multiple myeloma alone. Because of the program’s success, there are many patients throughout the province that, like John, are living extended and quite comfortable lives today.

John suggests there are many ways to give, by way of time, sharing personal contacts, and giving financially, to name a few. If every person could spare a small amount of time or give financially to the level they feel comfortable, then collectively it becomes a home run for VGH. The former commercial realtor and property developer is definitely an all-star performer on many counts. John has leveraged his extensive business networks to benefit many of VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation’s initiatives, including the Night of a Thousand Stars Gala, which helps fund our hospital’s most urgent needs. This wonderful event is also a thank you to the health care workers at our hospitals. John also makes an effort to educate the younger generation on the importance of giving back.

John and Mitzi look forward to continuing their efforts to assist wherever possible and at the same time generate the interest of those around them to do the same.

OVCARE targets worldwide ovarian cancer rates

Dr. Dianne Miller, OVCARE Co-Founder.

Dr. Dianne Miller’s tendency to question conventional wisdom has led to a sea of changes in the standard of treatment for the most deadly gynecological cancer. Co-founder of BC’s Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OVCARE), Dr. Miller is an internationally renowned surgeon, educator, clinician, and researcher. She acknowledges, “If passion is a prerequisite for change, then I think I probably have that.”

As a group, OVCARE has made several transformational discoveries that are fundamentally changing the way people think about ovarian cancer.

First came OVCARE’s pivotal discovery that ovarian cancer is not a single disease but five distinct subtypes that should be treated differently. “In the past these diseases were all treated the same,” Dr. Miller says. “We are now able to develop specific treatments which will improve the outcome for women with these cancers and ultimately save more lives.”

Next, they found that the most common and deadliest type of ovarian cancer arises in the fallopian tubes. This led to a radical new preventative strategy: a simple surgical procedure to remove the fallopian tubes during hysterectomies. Dr. Miller explains that, “Finding a better treatment is great but never getting the cancer in the first place is better!”

OVCARE’s research team is now leading a prevention campaign recommending greater adoption of this procedure worldwide. “We are able to use this knowledge to prevent many of these cancers,” Dr. Miller says. “Our goal is to decrease the incidence of ovarian cancer by 40-50% in the next 20 years.”

Dr. Miller is this year’s recipient of the distinguished Virginia Greene Award. This award, presented by Ovarian Cancer Canada, recognizes an individual’s outstanding contribution to the field of ovarian cancer.