SKOWHEGAN — In 2015 an estimated 48,960 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the United States and 40,560 will die from the disease, now the fourth-leading cause of cancer death, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

John Long, 53, of Skowhegan, has been spreading the word to raise awareness about the disease leading up to National Pancreatic Cancer Day, which is Friday. He said it’s important for people to know about research into early detection, causes and effects of the disease. Seventy-three percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within the first year of their diagnosis.

Long’s efforts have included getting the boards of selectmen in Skowhegan and Farmington to recognize the day with proclamations and to get purple ribbons draped on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan as a reminder.

“The biggest thing is raising awareness. It’s a deadly disease,” Long said. “In the state of Maine alone, there will be an estimated 210 people that will die of this, and that’s just for 2015.”

Long said he contacted the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and submitted forms to the towns for approval. Both communities adopted the proclamation in October.

Gov. Paul LePage also issued a proclamation designating November as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

Symptoms depend on the cancer’s location in the pancreas. Pancreatic cancer in the head of the pancreas tends to cause symptoms such as weight loss, jaundice (yellow skin), dark urine, light stool color, itching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, back pain and enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, according to the medical website web.md.

Pancreatic cancer in the body or tail of the pancreas usually causes belly and back pain and weight loss.

“There’s someone right here in town dealing with it,” he said. “And I have a friend who lives in Farmington who is dealing with it. There was someone on the news this morning who just passed away from it.”

Gunnar Hansen, the actor who played the terrifying villain Leatherface in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” died of pancreatic cancer at age 68 this week.

Long said he is raising awareness of pancreatic cancer so that others will get involved in the fight against the deadly disease.

“By the year 2020, they’re predicting it to be the second-leading cause of cancer death,” he said. “My friend isn’t doing very well with it. She was diagnosed in January, and here we are in November, and she’s in the hospital right now getting some things done. There’s a man in Norridgewock who just passed away from it a year ago.

“I think there’s a lot more of it out there than people are aware of.”

For more information go to www.pancan.org.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow