Why we focus on early diagnosis

At Pancreatic Cancer Action, we believe that early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is possible for everyone. We continue to work towards ensuring that the public and healthcare professionals have the knowledge and tools they need to make early diagnosis a reality. 

Early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is important because if it can be diagnosed and treated at an early stage, before the tumour has spread or grown too large, then survival rates for patients are significantly better.

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of any of the common cancers. Currently, only around 10-20% of pancreatic cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage and in time for potentially curative surgery. However, if surgery is an option then it increases the patients 5-year survival from under 7.9% to around 30%.  

Pancreatic Cancer Action envisages a day where everyone is diagnosed in the early stages of their disease and has the best chance for a longer, better quality of life. 

Why is pancreatic cancer diagnosed late? 

There are many reasons why pancreatic cancer being is diagnosed at a late stage; 

  • There is currently no screening tool that can be used to detect cancer in people before they have symptoms.
  • There is no simple diagnostic tool (such as a blood test) for the disease
  • Pancreatic cancer often presents with vague symptoms that make it difficult to diagnose. For some people, symptoms come at a late stage of the disease
  • Public awareness of the disease and its symptoms is low. Therefore, people may not consider their symptoms to be important and may delay visiting their doctor
  • Some people are unwilling or unable to go to their GPs with symptoms, for example due to embarrassment, being unable to make an appointment or difficulty accessing their local health services
  • Health care professional’s awareness of the disease and confidence diagnosing it can also be low. This may cause a delay in the ordering of appropriate tests or referrals to specialists
  • Patients often bounce around the system between services, causing appointment and diagnosis delays. 

What is Pancreatic Cancer Action doing to increase early diagnosis? 

Early diagnosis in pancreatic cancer is not a straightforward problem and therefore, there is no simple fix or solution. Pancreatic Cancer Action takes multiple steps to increase early diagnosis of the disease, but these must work together to be successful.  

For example, developing a simple diagnostic test is ineffective if patients do not present at primary care at an early stage of their disease.  

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