Pancreatic cancer is one of the more deadly forms of cancer and only between 7-25 per cent of people will survive for five years or more. For those whose cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the average survival is between 2-6 months. [Cancer Research UK figures 2015)
The location of pancreatic cancer – the middle of the abdomen and close to vital organs – is one reason that it can be so devastating. Symptoms also tend to occur later on as the disease progresses so nearly half of all cases are diagnosed as an emergency – double the normal rate for cancers. However, a new Cancer Research UK study published in the British Journal of General Practice suggests that many people could have a diagnosis earlier, if they visited their GP when symptoms first arose. Around a third (34 per cent) of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency had not visited their GP beforehand. But even if people do go to their doctor, they may find that their symptoms are missed. The new report also found that a quarter (23 per cent) of patients had visited their GP three times or more before being diagnosed.
This means that the only potentially life-saving treatment of surgery is unlikely to be possible, and as a result patients are likely to live for just two to six months.
Anna Jewell, Director of Operations at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Sadly these new figures do not come as a surprise, as we already know that almost half of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed as an emergency, which usually means their symptoms are more advanced and they have advanced disease. Tragically this will mean they will live for just two to six months on average. This study once again shows two enormous problems. Patients don’t know that their symptoms could be a sign of pancreatic cancer so they are not visiting their GP. When they do, the disease is not at the forefront of GPs’ minds, so people are not referred quickly enough for tests to confirm the diagnosis at an early stage.
“This simply must change if we are to transform the future for patients with this tough disease, and that’s why we are calling for the public and GPs alike to be more aware of the symptoms. These can include tummy pain that can spread to the back, significant and unexplained weight loss, yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin, oily floating poo and indigestion. It’s vital we all play our part in ensuring that people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed earlier, when potentially life-saving surgery is much more likely to be possible.”