Emily Waller

A New ‘War on Cancer’

Emily from our Policy and Campaigns team blogs about the Health Secretary’s commitment to waging a new ‘war on cancer’ and how this should look for pancreatic cancer. 

Emily Waller

We warmly welcome the Health Secretary’s declaration of a ‘war on cancer’ in Parliament last week. Sajid Javid said: ‘It’s clear to me that we need to go much further on cancer… to improve the persistently poor outcomes that patients in this country have long experienced compared to other countries’’.

With some of the poorest survival outcomes of all cancers, at Pancreatic Cancer UK, we have long been waging our own war on pancreatic cancer. Here are four key things we want to see included in the Health Secretary’s military strategy, if we are to finally make a difference in survival outcomes for pancreatic cancer. 

1. An Optimal Care Pathway

It’s absolutely crucial that everyone with pancreatic cancer, regardless of where they live, has access to the very best care and treatment available – from earlier, faster diagnoses to prompt, high-quality treatment and compassionate care. To help this happen, we’re working hard, alongside clinicians and patients from across the UK, to develop a clear outline of what best practice looks like and what patients should experience at every stage of their journey. We want to see a commitment from the Government that this best practice pathway will be absorbed into guidance – so that everyone, from doctors and nurses to patients and their families, knows what to expect and what should happen to give people the best possible chance of survival. 

2. Better data

It may not be the flashiest weapon for warmongering, but more and better-quality data can give us vital intelligence in improving outcomes. Currently, data on pancreatic cancer is usually grouped together with data on other cancer typesmeaning that we don’t have a clear picture of the experience of patients with pancreatic cancer specifically. Without this knowledge, we can’t take the decisive and targeted action that is needed to improve treatment, care and survival. Collecting and publishing quality, disaggregated data would be a simple yet incredibly effective line of attack on this cancer.  

3. Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT)

This treatment is a crucial weapon in the treatment arsenal, but is currently only being prescribed to 1 in 2 people with pancreatic cancer. PERT can relieve people of incredibly unpleasant and debilitating nutritional symptoms caused by pancreatic cancer. It can help them keep their weight up, and even help them gain the strength they need for life-saving treatment. We want to see urgent action across the UK to ensure that PERT prescription becomes a routine part of everyone’s treatment plan, and is prescribed as early as possible.  

4. Research investment

Every Lieutenant needs to do their research before launching an attack. Unfortunately, successive governments, strategies and plans have consistently missed the opportunity to invest in pancreatic cancer research to the extent required to transform survival. Despite being the deadliest common cancer, pancreatic cancer receives only a fraction of the funding of cancers with similar case numbers, such as leukaemia (which has received four times the funding of pancreatic cancer since 2002). This has created a precarious research environment for the disease, which fails to attract new candidates to the research field, and provides insufficient security for those candidates it does attract. It inadvertently discourages researchers from undertaking innovative research – but this less traditional research is essential if we are to make the breakthroughs we desperately need.

This ‘war’ is long overdue, but we believe that, if sufficient focus and energy are dedicated to pancreatic cancer, there’s the potential to have a huge impact for people with the disease across the UK and we hope to see these kinds of commitments when the Health Secretary lays out his more detailed plan of attack.