The multi-pronged approach to raising awareness
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, when the disease has already spread and curative surgery is no longer possible. There is a lack of awareness across the UK population of cancer symptoms in general, but this increases for diseases like pancreatic cancer which has vague symptoms.
Patients often think their symptoms are due to a less serious disease, or an existing condition. Or, they may ignore their symptoms altogether at first and not consider them as serious. Therefore, the time between the start of symptoms and a patient seeing a doctor can be quite long in the case of pancreatic cancer.
Healthcare professionals need to be aware, alongside the public, and increase their confidence in referring for, and diagnosing, pancreatic cancer. Decreasing the number of primary care visits before diagnosis will reduce the time between first appointment and diagnosis; free up appointment slots; and save the NHS money.
Pancreatic cancer is currently diagnosed too late for surgery around 80% of the time.
There is no simple fix for this, and patients and primary care professionals face multiple challenges in creating effective change.
Increasing early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer requires a multi-pronged approach. Increasing awareness and overcoming barriers to diagnosis in the public, will not be effective without corresponding increases in health care professionals. Engaging with the whole population, and healthcare professionals, is an important step in creating equal access healthcare and an effective, efficient diagnostic pathway.
Why GPs and pharmacy teams?
Pharmacy teams are well placed to recognise pancreatic cancer symptoms in patients and encourage a reduction in both delay in going to the doctors and in diagnosis. Pharmacists can provide a point of contact for patients and encourage them to seek a GP appointment, as well as monitor the progress of a patient attending the pharmacy regularly for increasing prescriptions.
Studies have found that patients with cancers like pancreatic, often require multiple visits to their GP before being referred for diagnostic tests as a potential cancer patient. Pancreatic cancer can be initially misdiagnosed due to the symptom profile and lack of awareness, once again increasing diagnostic delay.
1-year survival significantly increases from 14% to 32% when a patient is diagnosed by their GP rather than in A&E.
Importance of public awareness
Pancreatic cancer awareness in the UK is extremely low with 95% of people having little to no knowledge of the symptoms of the disease.
This is a huge problem as the less people know about a disease and its symptoms, the less likely they are to go to the doctors.
Early diagnosis is key to survival with pancreatic cancer as there is currently no screening programme for the disease.
What’s more, the UK has the highest perceived symptom barrier (patients delaying seeing their GP because they are too busy or embarrassed for example) of many countries with comparible healthcare systems studied alongside it including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Australia and Canada.