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Unite-Diagnose-SaveLives Q&A

Unite Diagnose Savelives

1. Why is pancreatic cancer so hard to diagnose? 

Pancreatic cancer often doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms in the early stages. This can make it hard to diagnose early. Symptoms of pancreatic cancer can be vague and can be caused by other common conditions, which can lead to misdiagnoses. To find out more please read our information about the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

2. Why is early diagnosis so important?

Pancreatic cancer is the deadliest common cancer. One in four people die within a month of diagnosis, three in four die within a year. Catching the disease at a treatable stage is imperative for survival. Patients diagnosed at an early stage have more treatment options available to them – and every day that goes by reduces the chances that a patient is able to undergo surgery – the only potential cure. Currently at least 90 per cent of all pancreatic cancer patients do not have surgery and 66 per cent receive no active treatment.  

3. Do doctors have the tools they need to diagnose pancreatic cancer? 

Just one in ten GPs (11 per cent) say they have the tools they need to diagnose pancreatic cancer early enough for treatment to be possible, according to new polling by CommRes on behalf of Pancreatic Cancer UK. Only three per cent of GPs polled said that they were very confident they could detect pancreatic cancer. No screening or early detection tests currently exist for the disease and its vague symptoms mean it often goes undetected until after it has spread. 

4. Research can take a long time, what about educating GPs on spotting the signs of pancreatic cancer in the meantime?

While research can sometimes take time, the greater collaboration of researchers through the Pancreatic Cancer UK Early Diagnosis Research Alliance means there’s a very good chance we will see the tools that GPs need to spot pancreatic cancer being developed earlier. But helping GPs to recognise the symptoms of pancreatic cancer is also key to early diagnosis – and that’s why, in partnership with Macmillan, we created ‘Primary Care 10 Top Tips for Early Diagnosis for Pancreatic Cancer’, and also why we run Health Care Professionals training and study days (and Pancreatic Cancer Action also run a good programme of GP and Pharmacist study days). We also help the public themselves to identify symptoms, through our public awareness activity, our website, through our regional co-ordinators in the community, and through Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November. But even the best education and training won’t fully solve the problem. Giving GPs the right tools to diagnose is at least as important as education – particularly as only 22 per cent of patients are currently diagnosed through GP referral. Currently there is no simple test for pancreatic cancer available – something that is desperately needed.

5. What do you mean by a simple test to spot pancreatic cancer?

A simple test could take a number of forms such as a blood test, a breath test, a screening tool or a process to review symptoms. The simple test we plan to develop should be clear, usable, accurate and specific to pancreatic cancer. We don’t want to restrict researchers by predicting what the test looks like. We want them to come to us with what the best solution is.  

6. Why hasn’t a test for pancreatic cancer been developed before now? 

Research into pancreatic cancer has been woefully underfunded, attracting only two per cent of the annual UK cancer research budget needed to achieve the scientific breakthroughs to transform the outcomes for people diagnosed with this disease. And so far, there have only been small amounts of funding in isolated projects in early diagnosis with no consistency or collaborative structure. We recognise that this model of funding hasn’t made enough progress and something needs to change. We need to approach things differently to diagnose people earlier and save lives from pancreatic cancer. 

7. What are you trying to achieve in this project?

Early diagnosis for pancreatic cancer is an enormous and complex task that hasn’t seen much progress from traditional, siloed research projects. Across the world, previous investments in early diagnosis research have been too small, infrequent and isolated. We need to take a different approach. We are therefore bringing together the best researchers, in the Pancreatic Cancer UK Early Diagnosis Alliance, to find a simple way to diagnose people earlier and save lives from pancreatic cancer. Its four goals are:

  1. To equip GPs with the tools to make accurate decisions on the need for further tests or referral to a specialist
  2. To develop a simple and accurate test for pancreatic cancer
  3. To gather evidence for implementation into UK healthcare settings
  4. To map out a diagnostic pathway so that these tools can be implemented in the NHS.

8. How much are you investing in this project? 

We’ve made an initial investment of three quarters of a million pounds. This investment into the Alliance marks the beginning of a sustained funding commitment into early diagnosis. As a key focus of our ongoing research strategy, we will continue to investing in early diagnosis research beyond the three-year grant. That’s why we need your help. To make a donation, please visit our donations page.

9. What other areas of early diagnosis are Pancreatic Cancer UK investing?

Investing in early diagnosis is not a new focus for the charity - and many research projects in our portfolio explore different aspects of diagnosis and development of pancreatic cancer. What’s different about this particular campaign though is that it supports a much more collaborative approach, involving far more researchers. To find out more about our research project portfolio please visit the research section of our website. 

10. Are donations raised by the campaign going directly to the Pancreatic Cancer UK Early Diagnosis Alliance?

Your donation is not restricted specifically to the Pancreatic Cancer UK Early Diagnosis Alliance, but all the funds raised through this campaign will go towards our cutting edge research, including into early diagnosis, as well as providing support for those affected by pancreatic cancer, running our Support Line staffed by specialist nurses, and campaigning so that people with pancreatic cancer’s voices are heard.  

11. What does ‘taking a stand for early diagnosis’ mean? Is it a petition?

Pancreatic cancer has been sidelined for far too long. By signing up to ‘take a stand against pancreatic cancer’, people can show the world that they support the push for early diagnosis in pancreatic cancer. They aren’t signing a petition being presented to Parliament, but they will be joining the pancreatic cancer community, increasing its voice, telling the World that they care about early diagnosis.