Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month – November

Pancreatic Cancer is one major type of cancer which is not too widely spoken about, yet it is one of the deadliest.

The most common type of pancreatic cancer is “pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)”, and the rare types are called “pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETs)”.

In the early stages of pancreatic cancer, many people do not experience any signs or symptoms. This makes it hard to diagnose. The signs and symptoms, in most cases, only start to display themselves when the cancer grows and starts to cause pain. However, the type of signs, and severity of them, depends on where the cancer is in the pancreas.

This type of cancer spreads and grows quickly causing a rapid decline.

  • 9,921 people in the UK were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2015 – meaning roughly 27 people every day are diagnosed.
  • 8 in 10 cases are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease.
  • In 2014 there were approximately 8,800 deaths due to pancreatic cancer – that’s 24 deaths every day, accounting for 5% of all cancer deaths in the UK.
  • Only 1% survive for ten years or more.
  • In the UK, 97% of those diagnosed pass away in the first year of diagnosis.

Since the 1970’s there has been very little change in mortality rates due to the lack of early diagnosis. Improving the speed of diagnosis is crucial, as when symptoms (as we currently understand them) appear, it is often too late.

However, a recent rise in the numbers of people being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer has caused an influx in much needed research.  It has been recognised that to increase survival rates, early detection is vital.

Professor Zhengming Chen and Dr Michael Holmes of Oxford University are currently working on a project developing a blood test to detect early stages of pancreatic cancer. This could mean that patients would be able to have potentially curative surgery, most commonly the Whipple procedure. At present, by the time symptoms display themselves surgery is not possible, so a blood test to help early detection could save many lives. They will also investigate genetic factors that may lead to pancreatic cancer.

Common Signs:

For the most common type of pancreatic cancer (PDAC), common signs to look out for are:

  • Pain in the stomach area and back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Indigestion
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
  • Oily floating poo.

These are usually the symptoms that alert someone to seek medical advice, as they indicate the cancer has grown.

Other signs include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in bowel habits such as: diarrhoea, steatorrhea (fatty stools) or constipation
  • Nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (being sick)
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Recently diagnosed diabetes
  • Feeling extremely fatigued (tired)
  • Feeling unusually full after food
  • Fever and shivering
  • Blood clots in a vein.

If you experience any of these symptoms and they seem out of the ordinary, seek medical advice as soon as possible. Insist that pancreatic cancer is ruled out and trust your instincts. Earlier detection could save your life.

Whilst it is not known exactly what causes pancreatic cancer, research has shown that the following may increase your risk of developing the disease:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Diabetes.

Some evidence has also suggested that the below may also increase risk:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Red and processed meat
  • History of cancer
  • Blood group
  • Gallstones and gall bladder surgery.

From personal experience of this devastating disease, it is incredibly important that more awareness is raised, and that more research is conducted to:

  • Improve the speed of diagnosis
  • Improve the speed of treatment
  • Improve treatments to help people survive once they have been diagnosed.

Pancreatic cancer spreads fast. It can quickly affect your lymph nodes and surrounding organs, causing secondary cancers such as those in your liver and bowel. There can be no delay in diagnosis or treatment for this reason. Charities such as www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk provide invaluable support to patients and carers, but they need help in order to continue providing this service – please support them in any way you can.

Raising awareness saves lives – and you can help by going purple this November.