Actress Jen Landon gets personal about losing her father, Michael Landon, to pancreatic cancer in new PSA

Jen Landon was just seven when her father, TV actor Michael Landon, star of “Bonanza” and “Little House on the Prairie," died of pancreatic cancer in 1991.

As an adult, the actress underwent genetic testing to see whether she inherited a higher risk for the deadly disease. Luckily, she has not. But she's using the experience to encourage others to get tested in a new PSA, part of  the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network's (PanCAN's) “Talk, Test and Take Control” campaign for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.

“Testing is about advocating for yourself,” Landon, a former soap opera actress who now appears in the Paramount Network series “Yellowstone,” says on the campaign website. “If you’ve lost someone to pancreatic cancer, getting tested can be incredibly cathartic and a way to take power back.” 

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Pancreatic cancer is considered the world’s toughest cancer, according to PanCAN, with a five-year survival rate of just 10%. But genetic and biomarker testing can improve the outcomes, said PanCAN CEO Julie Fleshman. 

The campaign, sponsored by cancer drugmakers AbbVie and Ipsen, invites pancreatic cancer patients and their relatives to find out more about testing and connect with a genetic counselor through the organization's patient support program. It also includes resources like a family history worksheet and risk assessment test. 

The campaign promotes PanCAN's recommendation that all current patients undergo genetic testing for inherited mutations and biomarkers, which can help doctors personalize their treatment. 

Fleshman pointed to a 2020 study by PanCAN and cancer diagnostics company Perthera showing those who received “matched therapies” after getting tested through the organization's "Know Your Tumor" precision medicine program lived a year longer than those who did not. 

For family members, the campaign highlights new medical guidelines suggesting genetic testing may be warranted if a parent, child or sibling has the disease. Previously, testing had been recommended only if two or more family members were impacted, Fleshman said. Those who test positive may qualify for regular screening to detect the cancer early.

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The PSA will run during November on social media and connected TV and in cable TV spots in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Atlanta. Other celebrity promoters include actresses Mindy Kaling and Rosario Dawson, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and Michael Landon’s “Little House on the Prairie” co-star Melissa Gilbert.

Meanwhile, medical experts and a survivor will discuss the role of testing in early detection and better treatments during a webinar planned for World Pancreatic Cancer Day Nov. 18.

Ipsen markets pancreatic cancer drug Onivyde. AbbVie, on the other hand, does not have an approved med for the disease and its blockbuster Imbruvica failed a phase 3 clinical trial in 2019.