Why symptom awareness and our healthcare resources are vital for early diagnosis
As a charity whose core focus is on early diagnosis, we are thrilled to hear today that Pancreatic Cancer UK (PCUK) are investing £750,000 into developing the first simple test for pancreatic cancer by 2024.
Currently, pancreatic cancer is diagnosed by a CT or MRI scan, however, there is no simple test that can be carried out by a GP, which is why this is such welcome news.
However, whilst having a bio-marker for the disease is fantastic and something that should be invested in, this will not solve the problem of late diagnosis (which is the major cause for the extremely low survival rate in pancreatic cancer).
What is the issue?
Currently, there is no simple test for pancreatic cancer that can be carried out by your GP, however, diagnostic tools do exist in the form of CT and MRI scans, ultrasound scans and others. The issue is that many GPs are not sending patients for the right diagnostic tests at the right time. This is where we come in.
This diagnostic biomarker will be an impotent tool if GPs and other diagnosing practitioners do not suspect pancreatic cancer in the first place. What is vitally important is that GPs and other allied healthcare professionals, such as pharmacists and practice nurses, have the education and resources to be able to spot the symptoms and risk factors of the disease when presented with a patient.
What needs to be done
Research by PCUK also shows that 54% of GPs say that they have some of the tools they need to diagnose pancreatic cancer but could do with more.
One of our key objectives at Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA) is to provide tools and resources to healthcare professionals to help them diagnose pancreatic cancer early. Including e-learning programme and resource packs with diagnostic and referral guidelines.
We have been making great strides in providing these ‘on the ground’ resources to help GPs spot the signs and symptoms and therefore refer patients on for the most appropriate tests (whether it be a CT scan, or hopefully in the future a non-invasive diagnostic test).
What we are doing about it
In 2015, our survey showed us that only 3% of GPs felt confident at recognising the signs and symptoms of the disease. As a result, we launched our Pancreatic Cancer Aware programme which provides free resources to not only GPs but also pharmacy teams, who are vital in helping to spot early signs and symptoms in patients.
We have also linked this with a public symptom awareness campaign. Whilst it is essential that healthcare professionals have the tools to diagnose pancreatic cancer sooner, public awareness is vital to ensure that patients who recognise that their ‘vague’ symptoms might be something more serious, go to see their doctor.
Changing the story for pancreatic cancer
The Pancreatic Cancer Aware campaign also aims to break down some of the barriers that people have when going to their GP or pharmacist about symptoms. For example, our recent survey shows that 34% of people in the UK are too embarrassed to go to the doctors and 25% won’t go as they are too busy. As a cancer with a chronic lack of awareness and with relatively vague symptoms, many do not recognise the symptoms as something to worry about and therefore put off going to their GP until it is too late.
By ensuring that more people are aware of the disease, the symptoms and their risk, we can help change the story for pancreatic cancer. It is not ‘the silent killer’, as it has been dubbed, and going to the GP with symptoms early can help more patients to be diagnosed in time for surgery and potentially save their lives.
You can help us take action to make a change today
As a small charity we have concentrated our efforts in small regions of the UK as funds have allowed. This June, for example, we will be taking our 3 fronted (GP, Pharmacy and Public) campaign to Northern Ireland, as awareness here is the lowest in the UK.
Ali Stunt, founder and CEO of PCA and pancreatic cancer survivor, says:
“As someone who has had the fortune to be diagnosed early, we now need your help to take our regional campaigns national so that every GP, pharmacist and most of the UK population sees symptom information so more can be diagnosed sooner.”