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Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month: ‘Let’s break through the silence together’

Posted: 09/11/2022

This November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The UK charity Pancreatic Cancer UK says ‘Let’s break through the silence together’, highlighting that the disease ‘gets too little attention and funding, and far too many people are dying’.

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK. About 10,500 people nationwide are diagnosed with this type of cancer each year. More than 45% of those diagnosed are aged 75 or older. 

The UK charity Pancreatic Cancer Action points out that there have been few improvements in survival rates in the last 50 years - the five year survival rate is 7.3% and many pass away within weeks of diagnosis. Public awareness in the UK is low, with 52% of people knowing ‘almost nothing’ about the disease and 76% being unable to name a single symptom.

The pancreas is a large gland that lies quite high up in the abdomen, just behind the stomach. It has two main functions. The endocrine pancreas makes hormones that control the level of sugar in the blood, such as insulin. The exocrine pancreas makes enzymes that assist in the digestive process, breaking down food so that the body can absorb nutrients.

Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose, particularly in its early stages, when there may be no symptoms, and the symptoms may come and go, or be hard to identify as specific to pancreatic cancer. Some of the most common symptoms of pancreatic cancer are:

  • abdominal pain or back pain (sometimes both); either a general discomfort, or tenderness in the abdomen that spreads to the back. Sometimes the discomfort is more acute after eating. It can be worse lying down, but improve when sitting forward;
  • sudden unexplained weight loss; 
  • indigestion – a painful, burning sensation in the chest.  This may also leave an unpleasant, bitter, taste in the mouth;
  • changes in stools – this can be diarrhoea, constipation, or pale oily stools (steatorrhoea) that smell unpleasant;
  • feeling very tired.;
  • loss of appetite;
  • being sick or feeling sick;
  • signs of jaundice, for example, yellowing skin, yellowing of the skin around the eyes, or itchy skin;
  • a recent diagnosis of diabetes;
  • blood clots, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

Pancreatic cancer develops when cells in the pancreas start to grow out of control, forming a tumour. The tumours that develop in the two different parts of the pancreas behave differently and cause different symptoms. Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma is the most common type. This is an exocrine tumour. It develops in the duct that runs through the middle of the pancreas. Neuroendocrine cancer (NET) is a less common type of pancreatic tumour which develops in the cells that make hormones. 

Treatment following early diagnosis is usually surgery to remove the tumour plus chemotherapy. Unfortunately, diagnosis often does not happen until a stage when surgery will no longer be possible. In these cases, treatment is focused on controlling the growth of the cancer and controlling symptoms.

During Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and particularly on 17 November 2022, World Pancreatic Cancer Day, landmarks around the UK light up purple to highlight this disease and to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, its risks and symptoms.

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, comments: “As Pancreatic Cancer Action and others have highlighted, awareness of the disease and its signs and symptoms is notably low in the UK. Late diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is far too common. More research is needed into this devastating disease and, in the meantime, raising awareness is key.”

If you or a family member or a friend have any concerns regarding a delay in diagnosis of pancreatic cancer or in the care or treatment given to a loved one with pancreatic cancer, the Penningtons Manches Cooper team can provide initial advice and an informal, no obligation chat to discuss concerns and our experience of similar scenarios. Please contact us on 0800 328 9545, email or complete our online assessment form.

For more information on this year’s campaign, please visit the websites of Pancreatic Cancer UK or Pancreatic Cancer Awareness.

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