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Three quarters of UK public cannot name a single symptom

Posted by: Comms 1 November 2016

74 per cent of people in the UK cannot name a single symptom of pancreatic cancer, according to a survey published today, the first day of Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. One person dies of pancreatic cancer every hour, and just five per cent of patients live for five years or more after diagnosis.

The ComRes survey of over 4,000 people, commissioned by Pancreatic Cancer UK, found that almost three quarters could not name unprompted any symptoms of the disease, which include tummy pain that can spread to the back, significant and unexplained weight loss, yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin (jaundice), oily floating poo and indigestion. Almost everyone in the UK (98 per cent) had heard of pancreatic cancer, but a fifth (20 per cent) knew nothing about it and two fifths (40 per cent) knew only a little about the disease. This was despite the fact that one in five people (18 per cent) said either they, or someone they knew, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

The poll also found that awareness of the shocking survival rates for pancreatic cancer was low. A fifth (20 per cent) of British adults wrongly thought that it was fairly likely or very likely that patients would live for five years or more after diagnosis, and almost a third (29 per cent) said they didn’t know how likely this would be.

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Pancreatic Cancer UK says the lack of knowledge about the disease and its symptoms is extremely worrying, because it may delay people being diagnosed. Currently over three quarters (80 per cent) of people with pancreatic cancer are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced, at which point  there are very few treatment options, and surgery, the only potential curative treatment, is not possible. Just eight per cent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer have surgery.

Following on from the poll findings, Pancreatic Cancer UK is today calling for people across the UK, including GPs and healthcare professionals, to learn more about the disease and its symptoms by taking part in the charity’s new symptoms quiz and to share it on social media.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "Pancreatic cancer is a deadly enemy, but it is an opponent with weaknesses. We know that the earlier someone is diagnosed, the higher their chances of being able to have surgery. This is the one treatment which can save lives, yet just one in every 12 patients actually has it. We must therefore all come together today and arm ourselves with crucial knowledge about the symptoms of the disease. We must then unite to spread the word far and wide to give daughters, sons, mothers and fathers who may be at risk of the disease the best chance of being diagnosed earlier, when surgery may be possible.

"Whether you're someone personally affected, an MP, a doctor or nurse or even someone who has never heard of the disease, everyone can play a role in our vital mission to take on pancreatic cancer together. We urge people across the UK to join us by completing, and sharing, our symptoms quiz today."

Steve Pereira, Professor of Hepatology and Gastroenterology at University College London, and member of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Medical Advisory Board, shares the charity’s concerns about the survey findings. Professor Pereira said: “It is truly vital that everyone makes themselves aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, so they can visit their GP if they are concerned. If people do not know what to look out for, they may not take action until it is too late for surgery and other treatment options, and they may miss the opportunity to take part in clinical trials, which could allow them to live longer.”

Justin Standen, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 45. He was on holiday when he noticed his skin was becoming yellow. He had also lost weight and had back pain. Justin was treated with chemotherapy, which shrunk the tumour, and then had surgery to remove his pancreas, spleen, gall bladder, and a third of his liver. He is currently on a break from chemotherapy.

Justin, Head of Credit Risk for Schroders plc, is now 49. He said: “Being told that I had pancreatic cancer was devastating news and came as a complete shock, especially as I was not aware of the symptoms. I realise now that I was lucky to be diagnosed at a stage where I was able to have treatment and then surgery. While I occasionally have bad days, I’ve recovered well from surgery and coped with the side effects of chemotherapy. I work more or less normal hours now, and play cricket for my village, as well as enjoy long weekends away with my wife in the UK and Europe, and as far away as New York last Christmas. I’m determined to stay as active as possible.”

The poll also found that, when presented with a list of potential symptoms:

  • Just over half (54 per cent) of people surveyed identified tummy pain as a symptom
  • Less than half (49 per cent) identified significant and unexplained weight loss
  • Less than one in six people (15 per cent) identified oily floating poo as a potential symptom
  • One in six (16 per cent) identified indigestion or heartburn as a potential symptom.
  •  Just 4 per cent of people identified yellow skin or eyes and itchy skin (jaundice) as a potential symptom of pancreatic cancer