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Pancreatic Cancer Again Strikes Former President’s Family

December 2, 1989

ATLANTA (AP) _ Deadly pancreatic cancer again has struck the family of former President Carter, prompting a leading cancer researcher to suggest regular testing for the entire clan.

Gloria Carter Spann, Carter’s sister, was released Friday from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where the 62-year-old Plains resident was diagnosed with the ailment, according to a statement from Dr. Martin York.

Mrs. Spann is the former president’s last surviving sibling. His father, James Earl Carter Sr., his brother, Billy Carter, and sister Ruth Carter Stapleton each died of pancreatic cancer.

While only about 6 percent of pancreatic cancer victims have a family history of the disease, those who do have it in the family are several times more likely to get it than the general population, said Dr. Henry P. Lynch, a professor at Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Neb.

″We recommend a CAT scan of the pancreas or an ultrasound for people who are at very high risk, such as Jimmy,″ said Lynch, who recently completed a study of 18 families with 47 members having pancreatic cancer.

Lynch said research has shown that the Carter family children could have a greater chance of developing pancreatic cancer, a disease that has its onset after the late 40s.

Part of the need for early screening, he said, is that when the cancer produce symptoms, ″it may have been there growing more subtly for five or 10 years.″

Carter’s father died of pancreatic cancer in 1953. Billy Carter died of the disease in September 1988 at age 51. Mrs. Stapleton was 54 when she succumbed to the disease in September 1983.

Carter’s mother, ″Miss Lillian″ Carter, had breast cancer that had spread to other organs, including her pancreas, when she died in October 1983 at age 85.

Mrs. Spann said in a statement released Friday through the Carter Presidential Center that she was not feeling any symptoms from the disease, which was diagnosed during routine testing.

She said she was ″feeling great,″ said center spokeswoman Casie Hughes. ″In fact, she and her husband Walter are planning to ride their motorcycles to Florida for the weekend.″

Researchers have found that pancreatic cancer is almost always fatal, Lynch said.

″In spite of advances in chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery, most patients with pancreatic cancer do not survive more than a year,″ he said.

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