Pancreatic cancer to be one of ‘big four’ cancer killers in less than ten years

Pancreatic Cancer UK now set to transform future for vast majority of patients diagnosed too late for the only treatment which can save lives

Research team
15 February 2017

Pancreatic Cancer UK is today (Wednesday, 15th February 2017) warning that the disease will become one of the UK’s top four cancer killers by 2026 (1), according to the charity’s new analysis.

In less than a decade, the disease will become the UK’s fourth biggest cancer killer, following lung, bowel and prostate cancers. Pancreatic Cancer UK says this is due to an unacceptable lack of breakthroughs into methods of diagnosing the disease early. This means that the vast majority of patients are diagnosed too late to have the chance of receiving surgery, the one treatment which can save lives. Currently, a shocking eight per cent of pancreatic cancer patients have surgery. The charity’s analysis also shows the number of people dying from pancreatic cancer will increase by over a quarter (28 per cent) by 2026 (2).

The groundbreaking results of the recent ESPAC 4 clinical trial brought great hope for a new life-extending treatment to patients diagnosed early enough to have surgery (3), but also highlighted the urgent need to improve the number of people diagnosed earlier, to allow more patients to have surgery and other existing treatments. Pancreatic Cancer UK is now determined to change the lives of the vast majority of patients diagnosed late, by funding innovative research as part of its new five-year strategy, Taking on research to change the future.

The charity will reveal how breakthroughs in early diagnosis could be achieved at its annual Inspiring Innovation Summit at the Royal College of GPs today (Wednesday, 15th February 2017), before world class cancer researchers, expert clinicians, policy makers, patients and families. They will hear how the charity’s new research strategy will transform the future for patients’ care and treatment by supporting innovative research based on exciting new approaches, training the professors of the future, bringing researchers together to collaborate, and involving people affected.

The charity is also calling on the government and other major research funders to join its quest to change the outlook for patients, by helping ensure the total research spend for pancreatic cancer reaches £25 million per year in the UK by 2022.

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “This dreadful disease is set to become one of the big four cancer killers in less than ten years because we have not made the vital breakthroughs in early diagnosis methods that are so desperately needed to allow patients and families more precious time together. And if we don’t act now, the number of lives stolen by the disease will increase by over a quarter by 2026 in the UK.

“We cannot let this happen. We will lead a revolution for people affected, by funding research to allow more patients to be diagnosed earlier, when potentially life-saving surgery is possible. We will also focus on discovering new treatments, exploring the potential of personalised medicine and ensuring patients get the best treatment now. But it is crucial the government and other major research funders join us and make pancreatic cancer research a priority today. It is only by taking on this tough disease together that we can make the long-overdue progress which will truly transform the future for patients and families.”

An exceptional anniversary

Father-of-three Paul Matherick, 49 from Somerset, is a former pancreatic cancer patient who is supporting Pancreatic Cancer UK’s research strategy because of an exceptional anniversary. This Sunday (19th February), Paul will mark exactly ten years since his pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Just one per cent of patients with the disease will reach this milestone.

Paul had had stomach pain for a few months before his skin became yellow (jaundiced), so he visited his GP, who admitted him to hospital. Two weeks later, Paul was given his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and went on to have surgery to remove the head of his pancreas, his bile duct, gall bladder and about a third of his stomach.

Paul said: “I want to send a message of hope to other patients and families, because on Sunday, I will join what I call the ‘one per cent club’ of patients who have lived for ten years after a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. I know I am one of the lucky ones, and I want to shout about my experience because I’m the proof that it is possible to survive this disease – if it is spotted early enough.

“I am passionate about more people being diagnosed early on like I was, so more people are able to mark an anniversary like the one I am looking forward to. But that won’t happen unless we make sure that researchers are looking into ways of catching this cancer early, and quickly. I believe this has to become a top priority today.”

Professor Stephen Smith, Chair of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s Scientific Advisory Board, and former Principal of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “As a researcher, supporting the highest quality research projects is incredibly important to me. As a son whose mother died of pancreatic cancer, ensuring that every penny works towards patients’ priorities is essential.

“The next five years are an incredibly important time for pancreatic cancer research. We are on the cusp of great new discoveries; we have the potential to explore treatments that we have never been able to before; and we have the opportunity to dramatically improve outcomes for people diagnosed and to save lives. It is only through being bold that we will realise this potential – through funding innovative research, bringing scientists together, involving people affected by the condition, and investing in the right areas, that we can have the biggest impact.”

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Pancreatic Cancer UK analysed existing Cancer Research UK cancer mortality projections and found that by 2026, pancreatic cancer would have the fourth highest number of projected deaths in the UK

Pancreatic Cancer UK analysed existing Cancer Research UK cancer mortality projections and compared the number of deaths in 2014 with the projected number of deaths in 2026, and found that there will be a 28 per cent increase in deaths by 2026

Prof John P Neoptolemos and colleagues, ‘Comparison of adjuvant gemcitabine and capecitabine with gemcitabine monotherapy in patients with resected pancreatic cancer (ESPAC-4): a multicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 3 trial’, published in the Lancet, 24th January 2017.