Health & Safety

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Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

10 November 2017

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and World Pancreatic Cancer Day is Thursday 16 November. Most people are not as knowledgeable about pancreatic cancer as breast, lung or prostate cancer, but the disease is just as debilitating.

Postion of pancreas

What is The Pancreas?

The pancreas is a large gland that lies behind the stomach, at the back of the abdomen – at about the same height as the bottom of the breastbone. It is about 15cm (6 inches) long and shaped a bit like a tadpole.

The pancreas makes pancreatic enzymes that break down food in the intestines, and has clusters of cells which make hormones like insulin that help balance the amount of sugar in the blood).

What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Pancreas

Pancreatic cancer starts when the exocrine glands or the endocrine cells form tumours, which can spread throughout the body. Cancers formed by the exocrine cells are much more common.

What Causes Pancreatic Cancer?

The causes of pancreatic cancer are not fully understood. However, there are some risk factors that make developing pancreatic cancer more likely:

  • Smoking – There is a direct relationship between the amount you smoke and the risk of pancreatic cancer. Around a third of all cases are associated with smoking.
  • Age – The risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. It mainly affects people who are 50-80.
  • Chronic Pancreatitis – Long-term inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been linked to pancreatic cancer.
  • Diabetes – There have been a number of reports which suggest that diabetics have an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Obesity – Recent studies have shown that risk is higher in people who are obese (have a Body Mass Index more than 30). Some studies show that obese women who carry their weight on their stomach area are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer.
  • Stomach Ulcer – Stomach Ulcer and Helicobacter pylori infection (a stomach infection.
  • Genetics – In about 1 in 10 cases, pancreatic cancer is inherited from a person’s parents. Certain genes also increase your chances of getting pancreatitis, which in turn increases your risk of developing cancer of the pancreas. .

Facts About Pancreatic Cancer

  • Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in the UK.
  • Pancreatic cancer is the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK – 26 a day.
  • 8,500 people die from pancreatic cancer in the UK every year.
  • Just 5% of patients survive – it has the worst survival rate of all 22 common cancers.
  • The average life expectancy on diagnosis is four to six months.
  • There are around 9,500 new cases of pancreatic cancer in the UK every year.
  • About 1 in 75 people will get pancreatic cancer at some point in their life.
  • Pancreatic cancer affects men and women equally.
  • Nearly half of people are diagnosed as an emergency in our Accident and Emergency system.

The earlier pancreatic cancer is caught, the better chance a person has of surviving 5 years after being diagnosed.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

In the early stages, a tumour in the pancreas doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

It’s important to remember that these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, and aren’t usually the result of cancer. But individuals should contact their GP if concerned, or if these symptoms start suddenly.

The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer are often:

  • pain in the back or stomach area – which may come and go at first and is often worse when you lie down or after you’ve eaten
  • unexpected weight loss
  • jaundice – the most obvious sign is yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes; it also causes your urine to be dark yellow or orange and your stools (faeces) to be pale-coloured:

Those affected may also develop symptoms of diabetes if they have pancreatic cancer, because it can produce chemicals that interfere with the normal effect of insulin.

Treating Pancreatic Cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is difficult to treat. It rarely causes any symptoms in the early stages, so it’s often not detected until the cancer is fairly advanced. If the tumour is large, treating the cancer will be more difficult.

The three main treatments for pancreatic cancer are:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy

Some types of pancreatic cancer only require one form of treatment, whereas others may require two types of treatment or a combination of all three.

World Pancreatic Cancer Day -Thursday 16 November

World Pancreatic Cancer Day is organised by an International Steering Group made up of the following organisations: Pancreatic Cancer Action (UK), Pancreatic Cancer UK, PurpleOurWorld Australia, The JCM Foundation (USA), Craig’s Cause Pancreatic Cancer Society (Canada), European Cancer Patient Coalition (EU), PASYKAF (Cyrpus).

UK support for Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic Cancer UK

Pancreatic Cancer UK is a charity fighting to make a difference by taking on pancreatic cancer, by supporting those affected by the disease, investing in research, lobbying for greater recognition of pancreatic cancer, and being there for everyone involved in the fight. The Charity wants to make sure that everyone touched by it gets the support and information they need.

Pancreatic Cancer Action

Pancreatic Cancer Action is another leading charity in the field with a focus on improving early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and improving the quality of life for those affected by pancreatic cancer. They are on a mission to stamp out late detection which is the reason that the survival rate has remained at between 2% – 4% for nearly 50 years.