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By 2030 disease set to replace breast cancer as 4th biggest cancer killer in the UK

National charity Pancreatic Cancer UK is calling on the Government to urgently address late diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in order to significantly improve survival of the disease, ahead of November's Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. In particular, the charity would like to see a commitment to reducing the number of diagnoses made via emergency presentation.

Currently over half of all pancreatic cancer diagnoses in England are made as a result of an emergency presentation - double the average rate of all cancers - and often resulting in late diagnosis and poor patient experience. In comparison, only 5% of breast cancers and 10% of prostate cancers are diagnosed via an emergency route.

Furthermore, pancreatic cancer, which has the worst five-year survival rates of the 21 most common cancers (only 4% survive), is predicted to replace breast cancer as the fourth biggest cancer killer by 2030[i]. Pancreatic cancer is currently the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK with about 7,900 deaths per year.

The charity's research shows if pancreatic cancer diagnoses as a result of emergency presentation were reduced to 25 per cent in England, and these patients were diagnosed via the Two Week Wait route, as many as 150 additional patients would survive for a year or longer. Survival rates for patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer via an emergency route are very low with one-year survival at only 9% compared to 26% for those diagnosed as a result of a GP referral.

A detailed analysis by Pancreatic Cancer UK of the Department of Health 2011/12 National Cancer Patient Experience Survey shows that pancreatic cancer patients in England, on most fronts, still have a considerably poorer NHS experience than almost every other cancer patient group.

Pancreatic cancer patients report longer waits to get referred to hospital by GPs than any other cancer group and are almost twice as likely as any other cancer patient group to experience worsening health whilst waiting to be seen at hospital. Once in hospital, pancreatic cancer patients are less likely than any other cancer patient to feel that staff did everything they could to control pain.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, comments, "With pancreatic cancer on course to overtake breast cancer as the 4th biggest cancer killer in the UK, we must do more to improve early diagnosis. It is especially important that we tackle the significant numbers of patients diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease as a result of an emergency presentation."

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month 2013 sees the launch of Pancreatic Cancer UK's new campaign, Every Life Matters. The charity believes every life lost to pancreatic cancer matters and wants to create a better future for every single person diagnosed with the disease.

As part of its campaign, the charity has published a report: Every Life Matters: the real cost of pancreatic cancer diagnoses via emergency admission in which it is calling on the Government to:

  • Commit to halve diagnoses of pancreatic cancer as a result of emergency presentation - with a short term three-year target of reducing this by 10%
  • An urgent audit of patients diagnosed via an emergency route to establish exactly how many cases might be avoided in the future and to identify actions to increase the number of patients diagnosed earlier through more appropriate routes
  • Implementation of tools to help GPs identify patients sooner who require further investigation
  • Access for GPs to more appropriate pathways, for example, single points of referral from primary to secondary care for coordination of diagnostics and rapid access jaundice clinics. This would help to improve survival, reduce treatment delays as well as the number of expensive bed-days incurred as a result of emergency admissions.


[i] Cancer Research UK, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/cancerstats/mortality/mortality-projections/projections-selected-cancers/, accessed 27 October 2013