Our Published Study: Understanding symptom appraisal and help-seeking in people with symptoms suggestive of pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Action Symptoms PosterIn 2013, we announced that we were funding researchers at the University of Cambridge to identify the key symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer.  The study involved a questionnaire and data record analysis of patients referred to hospital for a range of potential pancreatic cancer symptoms, which included a number of in-depth qualitative interviews.

We are delighted that the study Understanding symptom appraisal and help-seeking in people with symptoms suggestive of pancreatic cancer has been cited on the British Medical Journal site.  It’s a reflection of a growing interest in early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in the medical community.

About the Symptoms Study

The study, which was carried out in seven hospitals in two regions in England, involved over 391 participants who were recruited between Jan 1, 2011, and Dec 31, 2014.  They were all aged 40 years or older and had been referred for further tests as there was suspicion of pancreatic cancer:

  • 119 (30%) participants were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (41 [34%] had metastatic disease)
  • 47 (12%) participants were diagnosed with other cancers
  • 225 (58%) participants did not have cancer

Data was collected by the use of a patient questionnaire , and primary care and hospital records. Descriptive and regression analyses were done to examine associations between symptoms and patient factors with the total diagnostic interval (time from onset of the first symptom to the date of diagnosis), comprising patient interval (time from first symptom to first presentation) and health system interval (time from first presentation to diagnosis).

What were the key findings?

  • (54%) patients had multiple first symptoms whereas 161 (41%) patients had a solitary first symptom.
  • In this referred population, no initial symptoms were reported more frequently by patients with cancer than by those with no cancer.
  • Several subsequent symptoms predicted pancreatic cancer:
    • jaundice – 51 [49%] of 105 patients with pancreatic cancer vs 25 [12%] of 211 patients with no cancer
    • fatigue – 48/95 [51%] vs 40/155 [26%]
    • change in bowel habit – (36/87 [41%] vs 28/175 [16%]
    • weight loss – 55/100 [55%] vs 41/184 [22%]
    • decreased appetite- (41/86 [48%] vs 41/156 [26%]

“Although we identified no initial symptoms that differentiated people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer from those without pancreatic cancer, key additional symptoms might signal the disease. Health-care professionals should be vigilant to the possibility of pancreatic cancer in patients with evolving gastrointestinal and systemic symptoms, particularly in those with diabetes or mental health comorbidities.” Dr Fiona Walter, University of Cambridge

How will the results of the study help improve pancreatic cancer diagnosis?

The study is a call to action to healthcare professionals, as well as the public at large, to be aware of the key signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, which will ultimately help in the fight against pancreatic cancer.