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Could you recognise the signs of pancreatic cancer?

Could you recognise the warning signs of pancreatic cancer?

Posted on November 15, 2018, by Sharon Parsons

Sharon Parsons of Coodes Solicitors welcomes World Pancreatic Cancer Day (15th November 2018) and says we all need to learn to recognise the potential signs of one of the world’s deadliest cancers. 

There are a number of health awareness events across the year and they can be an effective way of getting across messages about diseases and health issues. Events such as World Pancreatic Cancer Day are particularly important because, compared with higher profile diseases, such as breast or lung cancer, there is low awareness about the potential signs of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of death from cancer in the EU. Sadly, according to Cancer Research UK, only around three per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive for five or more years. According to a recent scientific research paper in leading medical journal The Lancet, 80 to 85 per cent of patients have an advanced stage of pancreatic cancer by the time they seek help.

As with all cancers, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of survival and recovery. Here at Coodes, our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team has supported families who have been affected by a family member’s pancreatic cancer not being diagnosed early enough.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer begins when abnormal cells within the pancreas grow out of control and form a tumour. The pancreas is a gland in the abdomen that lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine and is part of the digestive system. It produces hormones to help control blood sugar levels, such as insulin and glucagon, and enzymes that help break down food.

According to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, around 9,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK every year and it has the lowest survival rate of all major cancers.

What are the symptoms?

Pancreatic cancer is hard to diagnose early as it often doesn’t cause signs or symptoms in the first stages. Leading UK charity Cancer Research has some excellent information on pancreatic cancer.

Cancer Research points out that symptoms vary from person to person, but they list the following:

  • Abdominal and mid-back pain
  • Unexplained Weight loss
  • Yellow skin or eyes
  • Change in stool
  • New-onset diabetes
  • Digestive problems

These symptoms can have many other causes and may well be a sign of a different condition. If you are concerned and are experiencing the above symptoms that are persistent or have worsened, then you should contact your GP.

What are the risk factors?

The cause of most pancreatic cancer cases is unknown but research studies have identified the following risk factors that may increase the likelihood that someone will develop pancreatic cancer:

  • Family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Family history of other cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Pancreatitis
  • Smoking – around one in three cases are associated with cigarettes or cigars
  • Obesity
  • Race (ethnicity)
  • Age – it mainly affects 50 to 80 year olds
  • Diet

Why research and awareness is so important

Every day, more than 1,250 people worldwide will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and an estimated 1,180 will die from the disease. Although this may paint a depressing picture, I remain hopeful that an increase in awareness and research will lead to more survivors. The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund outlines some poignant figures that show why more needs to be done:

  • 40 years ago few children survived childhood leukaemia- now the survival rate is 80 per cent.
  • 40 years ago only 47 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer survived five years or more- now that figure is also 80 per cent.
  • 40 years ago three per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survived five years or more- that figure is still 3 per cent. 

Perhaps, if we all become more aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, more people will seek help sooner and we may start to see the tide turning for this terrible disease.

For advice on these issues, please contact Sharon Parsons in the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence team at Coodes Solicitors on 01326 213033 or sharon.parsons@coodes.co.uk