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GPs lack the confidence and tools to spot the signs of pancreatic cancer

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 26 June 2012

GPs believe low survival rates are due to patients presenting too late

GPs identify patients presenting too late with pancreatic cancer due to the vagueness of the symptoms as the key contributing factor to the disease's five-year survival rate of just 3%.

The 575 GPs responding to a survey by national charity Pancreatic Cancer UK also highlighted the lack of a simple screening test and availability of effective treatment options as significant contributors to poor pancreatic cancer outcomes.  

Although most GPs could list one or two possible symptoms, half of those surveyed (49%) said that they were not confident that they could identify the signs and symptoms of possible pancreatic cancer in a patient.

Despite this lack of confidence, two in three GPs (67%) feel that improving early diagnosis is very important and that it would make a difference to many patients' long-term future. Four in five (80%) also believe that even if the disease is too advanced for curative surgery, there are still good reasons to diagnose pancreatic cancer as early as possible.

As for what would help them most in this diagnosis, a quarter of GPs (25%) want direct access to diagnostics, such as CT or other imaging tools, and one in five (19%) want more formal evidence of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Three in five (61%) also believe that providing them with information on clusters of symptoms (e.g. unexplained weight loss or jaundice) rather than site-specific symptoms, would support an improvement in earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

More than two in five GPs over-estimate the proportion of patients that are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after a primary care referral. Currently only about 30% of diagnoses are made as a result of GP referral - with close to half of all diagnoses resulting from an emergency admission to hospital. Patients who are diagnosed with cancer as a result of an emergency admission are known to have lower survival rates than patients diagnosed as a result of a primary care referral.  

Professor Sir Mike Richards, National Cancer Director, comments:

"Pancreatic Cancer UK's survey demonstrates that we must find ways to support GPs better in identifying symptoms which could be pancreatic cancer, to enable earlier diagnosis. This will help ensure that people diagnosed with the disease are given access to the best care possible."

Alex Ford, CEO, Pancreatic Cancer UK, comments:

"Our survey highlights that GPs do believe that earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is important even if there is no opportunity for cure. But it also shows that many GPs do not feel confident in their ability to identify those patients where further investigation is warranted. We are committed to working closely with GPs to close this gap between aspiration and the reality of day to day primary care practice."

"We are holding a Pancreatic Cancer Early Diagnosis Summit so we can identify practical steps that can be taken to help clinicians in primary as well secondary care to recognise and act on pancreatic cancer concerns sooner."

Willie Hamilton, Professor of Primary Care Diagnostics, Peninsular Medical School, Exeter, comments:

"We should not forget that GPs see very few cases of pancreatic cancer with most seeing only one new pancreatic cancer patient every five years. However, previous research also tells us that many of those who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer do experience symptoms for some time prior to diagnosis and do seek medical attention. All of this underlines the need to empower GPs to spot and to act on pancreatic concerns earlier."

Pancreatic Cancer UK's Early Diagnosis Summit on 27 June 2012 will bring together nearly 60 clinicians working in primary and secondary care, including GPs, gastroenterologists, oncologists, surgeons, medical directors as well as nurses. The event will focus on identifying practical steps that can be taken to improve early diagnosis in pancreatic cancer.

The event will be opened by Paul Burstow, Minister for Care Services. Professor Mike Richards, National Cancer Director will also be attending.   

A total of 575 GPs completed the survey between 24th May and 8th June 2012.

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For further information contact:

Louise Ellis, Communications Manager, Pancreatic Cancer UK

020 7820 6709

07584 293 039