Jo Willey, the former Health Editor of the Daily Express and our newest Ambassador, attended our Survival Summit at the Wellcome Collection, London. Here, she wrote her experiences of the day...
The pancreatic cancer landscape is changing.
And it seems that finally, the news for patients is starting to look up.
On Wednesday, Pancreatic Cancer UK hosted its third annual survival summit at The Wellcome Collection in central London in front of a record 90 delegates including patients, carers, clinicians and oncologists.
According to Pancreatic Cancer UK Chief Executive Alex Ford, the “key messages” of the day were ones of hope, with new options available to patients and carers, and the pledge to get “real momentum” behind the disease to eradicate it for good.
The delegates heard encouraging updates about new and emerging drug treatments, surgical techniques, innovative technologies, trial results and as ever, the moving impact of this terrible disease on patients and their loved ones.
Broadcaster Nicholas Owen, who has fought his own battle against kidney cancer and lost his father aged 61 to pancreatic cancer in 1981, in his key-note address to open the summit called for more people “from the showbiz” world to talk about their links with the disease to help raise its profile.
He said: “It isn’t a sexy thing, it doesn’t get the publicity it should but there are great things happening. I hope to see pancreatic cancer coming up towards the top of the headlines.”
Dr Martin Allaby, a consultant clinical adviser for the Centre for Clinical Practice at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), announced that it will begin to recruit an expert panel in May to develop a pancreatic cancer Clinical Guideline and Quality Standard.
This exciting development comes nearly 15 years after NICE’s Improving Outcomes Guidance publication.
Dr Pippa Corrie from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge acknowledged that despite new treatment options for patients: “survival gains are modest”.
But she announced that trials of a combination treatment using Gemcitabine and Abraxane in patients with metastatic pancreatic cancer are showing promising results.
There are now plans in place to see if the success of giving Abraxane 24 hours before Gemcitabine can be mirrored in the clinic.
Dr Steve Pereira, a consultant gastroenterologist at University College Hospital and the Royal Free in London highlighted interesting new developments in early diagnosis.
His team, whose research Pancreatic Cancer UK funds, is working towards developing an accurate “symptoms” diagnostic tool which could be used alongside risk factors to spot the disease early.
Other exciting diagnostic research is investigating biomarkers, which, when combined with a symptoms tool, could be the early diagnosis test needed to spot pancreatic cancer in its earliest stages.
Dr Andrew Millar, a consultant gastroenterologist and hepatologist at the North Middlesex Hospital revealed a blueprint for creating Multidisciplinary Diagnostic Centres to transform the care pathway for pancreatic cancer patients to help slash waiting times and get people a diagnosis within four days rather than weeks.
Marie Coupland, a pancreatic cancer patient, introduced one of the sessions in the afternoon. She recalled how she thought Upper GI was a floor in the hospital, rather than an acronym for Gastrointestinal. Although this created laughter among the audience, Marie wanted to stress the importance of communication and said that health professionals should not make assumptions about a patient’s level of knowledge.
The Summit also heard very moving and personal experiences from people who had lost loved ones, Debbie Wells whose daughter Gemma Harrison died aged 27 from the disease spoke of the desperate need for support for families of sufferers.
Lesley Goodburn read out a heartbreaking letter her dying husband Seth wrote to two nurses who had offered him polar opposite levels of care as he succumbed to the disease in June last year (2014) aged 50.
Tears were shed throughout the conference room as the two remarkable women shared their incredibly personal stories.
Facilitator Lynne Walker, a pancreatic cancer survivor and a member of the Pancreatic Cancer UK Board of Trustees told the gathering: “We need to get out there with our megaphones – that is what today is all about. Sharing information and renewing our passion and commitment.”
Julie Fleshman, president and chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (USA) spoke passionately about the need for molecular profiling of patients which is being pioneered by the charity in America.
And Julie really summed up the change in attitudes towards pancreatic cancer and its patients when she said: “There is hope and patients should not be sent home to die.”
Jo is the former Health Editor of the Daily Express and now runs her own media strategy and training consultancy Jo Willey Media. She is an Ambassador for Pancreatic Cancer UK