Pancreatic cancer awareness month calls for diagnosis within two weeks to prolong life chances for sufferers

Posted: 14/11/2013


Pancreatic cancer is a common and often fatal cancer which is notoriously difficult to diagnose, has the lowest survival rate of the 21 common cancers, and a five year survival rate of less than 4%. For every 8500 patients diagnosed in Briton each year, there will be nearly 8000 deaths.

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, with charities calling for raised awareness and funds for research into the disease. While overall cancer survival rates in the UK have improved, it is clear that some types of the disease, such as pancreatic cancer, are still trailing behind.

Late diagnosis and lack of funding for research are two of the main causes for these poor survival rates. Symptoms of the disease are often non-specific and patients can present to their GPs with a variety of potential other conditions. On average, a GP will only see one new pancreatic cancer patient every five years, meaning the condition can therefore be extremely difficult to identify.

Currently, over half of all pancreatic cancer diagnoses in England are made as a result of an emergency admission. National charity, Pancreatic Cancer UK, believes that earlier diagnosis is key to fighting the disease and its recent report, 'Every Life Matters', suggests that, if pancreatic cancer diagnoses as a result of emergency presentation were reduced by 25%, then up to 150 more patients would survive for a year or longer.

The aim would be for these patients to be diagnosed via the Two Week Wait route following a GP referral. A reduction of even 10% of emergency-based diagnoses could lead to a further 50 patients surviving for a year or more.

The symptoms of pancreatic cancer include abdominal pain, persistent indigestion symptoms which do not go away with medication, upper back pain, change in bowel habits and jaundice. Around 5% of patients will also be diagnosed with diabetes in the years leading up to diagnosis because a pancreatic tumour can affect the body's ability to control blood sugar.

Statistics reveal that 80% of patients are diagnosed too late for surgery. Chemotherapy can be given to alleviate symptoms and stop the cancer developing but this does not, sadly, usually lengthen lives significantly.

Harriet Woodward, associate in the Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, says: "While the treatment of cancer has improved dramatically over recent years, pancreatic cancer is still a very prolific disease with often fatal consequences. A cancer diagnosis is always devastating but we understand that both early identification and treatment of the disease is crucial to an improved outcome for the patient.

“Unfortunately, we do still see delays in diagnosis and our team can advise in relation to a wide range of cancer claims. It is hoped however, that campaigns such as Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Awareness Month will raise the profile and understanding of this disease. With a heightened awareness to the potential symptoms, delays in treatment can hopefully be prevented and the survival rates of those who receive a diagnosis improved."

Pancreatic Cancer UK is calling for:

  • Government target to halve the diagnoses of pancreatic cancer as a result of emergency presentation
  • An urgent audit of patients diagnosed via emergency admissions, to see how such late diagnoses could be avoided
  • Implementation of tools to help GP's identify patients who need treatment, earlier and
  • Access for GP's to better referral pathways, so patients receive earlier treatment, emergency admissions are reduced and chances of survival are improved.

For further information about Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month visit www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk


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