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Low levels of pancreatic cancer awareness in the UK

Posted by: Policy and campaigning 4 August 2015

At Pancreatic Cancer UK we continually seek to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer. But in order to do this effectively we need to know what the current levels of public awareness of pancreatic cancer are. There have been a few surveys and polls in recent years but there is not a huge amount of evidence that is readily available.

We asked the UK public questions about the disease

We set out to increase the evidence base of pancreatic cancer awareness by commissioning an opinion survey from the respected research and polling company, ComRes*. ComRes surveyed over 2,000 adults from across the UK asking them questions such as how familiar they were with pancreatic cancer, what they knew about its symptoms and associated risk factors, how common and how survivable people thought the disease was, and whether they had any personal experience of pancreatic cancer.

These are some of the highlights:

  • Whilst almost everyone surveyed (97%) said they had heard of pancreatic cancer, the majority of respondents said that they knew nothing or little about the disease (61%)
  • When asked to name a symptom of pancreatic cancer, 71% of UK adults could not name a single symptom unprompted
  • Overall, women seemed more often to correctly identify pancreatic cancer symptoms than men
  • Around one fifth of respondents (19%) said they had personal experience of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer or knew someone who had been diagnosed
  • Only 29% of people recognised that smoking was a risk factor for pancreatic cancer and 23% said they were certain or fairly certain that it was not. This is worrying as studies have shown that as many as one in three of pancreatic cancer cases in the UK are caused by smoking

You can read a complete summary of the results of our survey in our new report - The Not So Silent Killer: The need to tackle low awareness of pancreatic cancer across the UK.

Why is increased awareness important?

  • We know that the earlier pancreatic cancer is diagnosed, the greater a person’s chance of surviving five years or longer. So, the more people that are aware of signs and symptoms of the disease, the more likely they are to go to their GP earlier. Alongside that, there is a need for us and other organisations to raise GPs’ awareness of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer so to prevent patients having to visit their doctor multiple times before they are diagnosed
  • By raising knowledge and awareness of established risk factors of pancreatic such as smoking, we can help more people decrease their risk of pancreatic cancer in the future
  • By dispelling myths around the disease we can ensure pancreatic cancer is considered and ruled out, rather than not considered at all. One common misconception is that pancreatic cancer is more common among men than women, (our survey showes 30% of people thought this was true with a further 53% not knowing), when in fact almost equal numbers of men and women are affected. Also, people often think pancreatic cancer is only a disease that affects the elderly. 25% of people who responded to our survey reported that they thought only one in 100 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are under the age of 65. The true figure is one in four people 
  • By making more people aware of the fact that pancreatic cancer has the worst survival rates of any of the most common cancers – a five-year survival rate of around 4% - our hope is that they will join us in campaigning for more research funding and better treatments and standards of care for the disease across the UK

Next steps 

  • We are calling for the Governments across the UK to fund national awareness campaigns so to help spread the message of signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. If we cannot get agreement for pancreatic cancer-specific campaigns we would like to see wider, but still focused, campaigns around symptoms associated with gastrointestinal cancers, which would include pancreatic cancer. Symptoms to highlight could include abdominal (tummy) pain, significant and unexplained weight loss and change in bowel habit
  • We also want to see increased GP awareness of the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer. In addition to training about the disease, GPs should be provided with effective, computersied Decision Aid Tools to supplement their symptom knowledge
  • We will continue to play our part in raising awareness through our Information Services, the media, social media, lobbying MPs and policy-makers and through Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month (PCAM) activities, such as Purple Lights for Hope
  • Help us spread the word by campaigning with us and writing to your local MPs, MSP and Assembly Members. You can also share the links to our website where we provide a more detailed list of symptoms as well as information about risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer

Thank you for reading and we hope you find our report informative.

* ComRes interviewed 2,158 UK adults online between the 10th and 12th July 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults aged 18 . ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org). This commits the company to the highest standards of transparency. Full data tables are available at www.comres.co.uk.