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Lancashire and South Cumbria residents urged to spot the signs early for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month this November

12th November 2020

Almost 10,000 people are newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK. The disease affects men and women equally, with incidence increasing from the age of 45. The average age at diagnosis is 72.

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month’s goal is to bring much-needed focus and attention to the disease, especially the need for increased awareness of cancer signs and symptoms.

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK and has the lowest survival rate of any of the 21 common cancers – with fewer than 4% of patients surviving five years or more.

The NHS is committed to providing essential cancer services during the covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning of the outbreak, there was a sharp drop in the number of patients referred for investigations and appointments for suspected cancer. This has improved for most types of cancer, as more people are talking to their GPs about their concerns.

For cancers of the upper digestive tract, which includes pancreatic cancer, during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people presenting to their GP with symptoms that may result in a referral to hospital was less than 40% of the expected numbers. Although this has increased to some degree, and is now nearer 85%, any drop in referrals is concerning. More patients are being diagnosed in A&E, when it is more likely they will be unwell or have advanced disease.

It is important people don’t wait to contact their GP during this second national lockdown or during local restrictions. The NHS is still here for you if you have signs or symptoms of cancer. Anyone with concerns should continue to come forward for help and treatment. NHS services have put a range of measures in place so that people can be treated safely throughout the pandemic.

Pancreatic cancer is a common disease, but often it may not have any symptoms, or they might be hard to spot and this makes it difficult for individuals to get diagnosis and treatment. 

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer could include:

  • Jaundice: the whites of your eyes or your skin could turn yellow, you may also have itchy skin, darker pee and paler poo than usual
  • loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
  • persistent changes in bowel habits – poo becoming loose or harder
  • back pain
  • pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you are eating or lying down and better when you lean forward
  • nausea – feeling sick
  • vomiting – being sick
  • new diagnosis of diabetes.

Dr Neil Smith, local GP and Primary Care Director for Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Alliance, said:

"If you have become jaundiced (where the white of your eyes or your skin goes yellow) or have lost weight with abdominal or back pain, nausea or vomiting, or a change in your poo, please contact your GP for advice.

It is really important to get any symptoms of pancreatic cancer checked out as soon as possible. Early diagnosis saves lives.”

Watch Dr Neil Smith’s video about the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer:

Video Transcript

DR NEIL SMITH. 

Hello, my name is Neil Smith. I'm a GP and I am passionate about early diagnosis of cancer. And today I want to talk about pancreatic cancer because, of all the cancers, it's got one of the lowest survival rates. It is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related death and I'm sad to say that less than 4% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are alive after five years and I'd like to make a difference with that.

Now, I recognise that Covid-19 has been hard for us all. One of the major things I noticed, particularly early on, is fewer of my patients coming forward to talk to me about cancer. I'm pleased to say that's improved. I'd like that to continue and I need to reassure people that the NHS is still open. GPs like myself are here to help you and there's been a range of changes to make sure that you are safe.

So, if you've got any concerns about cancer, please still contact your GP. Pancreatic cancer can be difficult to spot early, but the sooner we do spot it, the easier it is to treat and to cure. Now potential symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include jaundice - that means when the whites of your eyes become yellow or your skin becomes yellow or itchy, pee can become darker, poo can become lighter.

Pancreatic cancer can also cause a loss of appetite or weight without trying to do so, persistent, unusual pains in your tummy or your back, or changes in your bowel, your poo will become more frequent or constipated and it can also cause you to feel sick or be sick more often. Now if you've got any of these symptoms, please do contact your GP. It probably isn't pancreatic cancer, but it's best to get it checked out. So let's talk cancer because early diagnosis, particularly if pancreatic cancer, will save lives. Thank you.