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Three quarters of UK adults can't name even one pancreatic cancer symptom

Posted by: Comms 4 August 2015

71 per cent of people in the UK cannot name a symptom of pancreatic cancer, despite one person dying of the disease every hour, according to a survey published today.

The ComRes survey of over 2,000 people, commissioned by Pancreatic Cancer UK, found that almost three quarters could not name unprompted any symptoms of the disease, which include tummy pain, weight loss, yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin and oily floating poo. The survey also found that almost two thirds (61 per cent) of people in the UK had heard of pancreatic cancer, but knew nothing (21 per cent) or little (40 per cent) about the disease.

Pancreatic Cancer UK says this is extremely worrying because the disease is often diagnosed late when it is too advanced for surgery, the only potential curative treatment. Only about 10 to 20 out of every 100 people diagnosed with the disease can have surgery. Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis. The disease is also becoming more common, with the disease predicted to become the UK’s fourth largest cancer killer – overtaking breast cancer – by 2030.

The results, which the charity is publishing as part of its report The Not So Silent Killer: The need to tackle low awareness of pancreatic cancer across the UK, found that almost a fifth (19 per cent) of people said either they, or someone they knew, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Yet when presented with a list of symptoms, almost a fifth (16 per cent) of those surveyed said none were symptoms. When prompted, only just over a fifth (21 per cent) of people identified yellow skin or eyes as a symptom, less than half (45 per cent) identified significant and unexplained weight loss, and just over half (52 per cent) identified abdominal pain.

Following on from the survey, Pancreatic Cancer UK is today calling for people across the UK, including GPs and other healthcare professionals, to be more aware of the disease and know the symptoms. The charity is also calling on all UK Governments to run public awareness campaigns on the disease to ensure more people are diagnosed earlier and therefore more likely to live for longer.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Our survey results issue a stark warning about low levels of awareness across the UK about the deadliest cancer. This is incredibly worrying, because the disease has the lowest survival rate of all the common cancers, with just four per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis. But we know that the earlier people are diagnosed, the longer they are likely to live.

“We urge people across the UK to find out more about the disease and know its symptoms. It is also essential that GPs and other healthcare professionals keep the warning signs at front of mind so people are referred for specialist tests and diagnosed more quickly. We will continue to do all we can to raise awareness of the disease, but we need to see all UK Governments take action by funding public awareness campaigns to help spread the word about pancreatic cancer and its symptoms. Ultimately, if we don’t all find out more about this brutal disease, people will continue to be diagnosed too late and die too soon, tragically robbed of precious time they could have spent with their loved ones.”

As well as spreading the word about the disease and its symptoms to the public, Pancreatic Cancer UK works to improve the number of people diagnosed earlier by campaigning for more training and support for GPs, and funding research, including the search for biomarkers that could lead to the development of screening tests in future.

The survey also found:

  • When respondents were presented with a list of cancers including oesophageal, testicular, bowel, lung, kidney and pancreatic, and asked to order them in terms of how common they were, almost a third (30 per cent) thought that testicular cancer was the third most common, when it is actually the least. About a third (31 per cent) thought that pancreatic cancer was the fourth most common cancer, which is correct. People also knew more about testicular cancer, with 84 per cent saying they know about the disease, compared with 76 per cent knowing about pancreatic cancer.
  • A quarter (25 per cent) of people think only one in 100 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are younger than 65. However, in reality 25 per cent of people diagnosed are younger than 65.
  • About a third (29 per cent) of people think that there is a link between pancreatic cancer and smoking. However, 23 per cent are fairly certain or certain that there is not, with a further 47 per cent saying they don’t know. Separate research has shown that smoking is the only established risk factor for the disease, with almost a third (29 per cent) of cases in the UK being linked to smoking.
  • More than two fifths (41 per cent) of people believed there was a link between pancreatic cancer and drinking alcohol. Chronic, heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for chronic pancreatitis, which in turn is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. But there is mixed evidence for a direct link between alcohol and pancreatic cancer.
  • Women were more likely than men to be able to correctly name a symptom of pancreatic cancer. Without a list of prompts, 15 per cent of women said abdominal pain was a symptom, compared to just 8 per cent of men. And when presented with a list of possible symptoms for pancreatic cancer, over half (51 per cent) of women correctly identified significant and unexplained weight loss as a symptom, as opposed to just 39 per cent of men.
  • People in Wales were less likely to have heard of pancreatic cancer than people from all other nations of the UK. One in ten people (ten per cent) in Wales said they had never heard of the disease, compared to two per cent in both England and Northern Ireland and five per cent in Scotland. People in Wales were also most likely to say they had heard of pancreatic cancer but knew nothing about it (29 per cent), compared to 20 per cent in England, 21 per cent in Northern Ireland and 24 per cent in Scotland.
  • People in Northern Ireland are less likely to know any symptoms of pancreatic cancer than those living anywhere else in the UK. 82 per cent of people in Northern Ireland were unable to name a symptom unprompted, compared to 71 per cent in both England and Wales and 67 per cent in Scotland.

Note to editors:

Survey statistics quoted are from ComRes. ComRes interviewed 2,158 UK adults online between 10th and 12th July 2015. Data was weighted to be representative of all UK adults aged 18 . ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org). This commits them to the highest standards of transparency.

You can view the full survey results, here.