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Just 3 per cent of people with most common type of pancreatic cancer will survive beyond five years, major study finds

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 20 June 2018

For the first time, the “outrageous” five-year survival of the most common type of pancreatic cancer has been revealed, a three-year study of over 25,000 patients in England (1) released by Pancreatic Cancer UK today (Wednesday, 20th June) has found.

95 per cent of people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), but the charity says that because of the way that data about the disease is published, we have previously simply not known just how shocking the survival truly was for this type of the disease. Survival and other information about this type has previously been published together with that for another type called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours or PNET, which has a far higher survival. This has meant that the true survival for PDAC has appeared better than it really is; the most recent survival statistics for England show that less than seven per cent of patients overall will live for five years or more (2).

The research released today, commissioned by Pancreatic Cancer UK and carried out by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has found that in England, just three per cent of people with PDAC will live for five years or more; compared with a ten times higher five-year survival (34 per cent) for patients with PNET.

Pancreatic Cancer UK has labelled the survival of PDAC as completely unacceptable, and is determined to bring about urgent change for all patients to allow them to have a fairer chance of surviving, by calling for research investment into the disease to be increased as an absolute priority. Currently, the disease attracts an unacceptable 2.1 per cent of the annual UK cancer research budget.  With 60 per cent of pancreatic cancer patients currently diagnosed at an advanced stage, the charity is also calling for far more patients to be diagnosed earlier, when the one potentially life-saving treatment of surgery may be an option.

Diana Jupp, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “For the first time, our study has revealed the truly outrageous survival for the vast majority of people with pancreatic cancer. This survival is completely unacceptable and it simply cannot be ignored. Due to increased research investment, in recent years we have seen outstanding progress in other cancers such as breast and prostate, and a shocking lack of progress for pancreatic. But together, we can turn this around and transform the future for people affected. Now we are armed with a clear picture of this disease overall, it must be confronted as an emergency by Governments, research funders, and health commissioners alike.

“In the light of the announcement on NHS funding this week, we must ensure that pancreatic cancer is always high on the agenda. We must see research investment vastly increase to £25 million a year by 2022, discover new ways of diagnosing the disease earlier, and we must see the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on the treatment of the disease rolled out. Here at Pancreatic Cancer UK we will continue to fund cutting edge research, campaign on behalf of everyone affected and offer crucial support. People affected by this tough cancer deserve a fair chance of surviving. We absolutely believe we can give them that if today, everyone joins our ongoing effort to take on pancreatic cancer.”

The charity is also calling for data on pancreatic cancer to be broken down by type in addition to the overall figures about the disease from now on, to allow a more accurate picture of the disease in future, increase understanding as to why the prognosis for PDAC is so poor, and identify how to improve outcomes for patients. This will also enable progress to be tracked and inform the charity’s plans as it drives improvements in care and treatment to transform the future for everyone affected.

Joanne Smith (39) from Kingston, lost her mother to PDAC in 2016, five months after an advanced diagnosis. Sue Smith (66) had found a sizeable lump near her stomach, she had lost a great deal of weight and had noticed a change in her bowel habits. Joanne said: “Losing our mum to pancreatic cancer has been absolutely heart-breaking for my entire family. I wouldn’t want any other family to have to face this awful disease. The diagnosis process was very stressful and there were almost six weeks between mum’s first appointment with the GP and a formal diagnosis. She even ended up going to A&E the day before her CT scan results were due back because she knew that something was seriously wrong and told us that she thought she was dying.

“We saw our mum deteriorate very quickly and she underwent two rounds of chemotherapy but that was quickly stopped as she was too sick to continue. So it was decided it would be better to manage her symptoms rather than continue with treatment. We were very lucky to have one last Christmas with mum, but unfortunately this is not the case for many families affected by pancreatic cancer. Change just can’t come soon enough for families facing this dreadful disease.”

As the first step towards bringing about a sea change for everyone affected by the disease, the charity will spread the word about its study to researchers, clinicians, health commissioners and service managers at Public Health England’s Cancer Services, Data and Outcomes Conference today in Manchester.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s study looked at the survival of all adults diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in England between 2010 and 2013. The full results of the study are set to be published in a journal at a later date.

Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is the most common form of exocrine tumour, starting in the exocrine cells of the pancreas, where the enzymes which help digest food are made. Endocrine tumours (also called neuroendocrine tumours or PNETs), start in the endocrine cells in the pancreas, which produce hormones that help control the level of sugar in the blood.

Across the UK, less than seven per cent of people with pancreatic cancer will live for five years or more. The length of time a person with pancreatic cancer is likely to survive will depend upon the stage at which they were diagnosed and whether they are able to have surgery to remove their tumour. Overall, less than ten per cent of people with the disease will have surgery.

People are being urged to make a donation to the work of Pancreatic Cancer UK to help the charity transform the future for everyone affected by pancreatic cancer. To donate, visit www.pancreaticcancer.org.uk

Notes to editors:

For further information and to find out more about Pancreatic Cancer UK, contact: Lizzie Hubbard or Emma Fielder at Pancreatic Cancer UK, on 020 3780 7762, or media@pancreaticcancer.org.uk

For urgent queries out of office hours, call 07469 660 633.


  1. Source: Analysis of a three year (2010 – 2013) cohort of patients, commissioned by Pancreatic Cancer UK and carried out by the team in Cancer Survival group, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) led by Prof Michel Coleman. The team collaborated with Professor of Surgery, John Neoptolemos, University of Heidelberg and Dr Brian Rous, Consultant Pathologist, National Cancer Registry Analysis System (NCRAS) to establish the methodology for grouping pancreatic cancer by type.
  2. Source: (ONS, 2011-2015)