Demand better for pancreatic cancer


Today is World Pancreatic Cancer Day. This campaign, represented by the iconic purple ribbon, aims to raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of pancreatic cancer to promote earlier diagnosis and therefore longer survival rates, in the hopes of helping to prevent millions of deaths globally each year [1].

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer develops when pancreatic cells multiply abnormally, forming a malignant tumour or mass [2]. There are different types of pancreatic cancer; most are of the exocrine subtype, meaning they start in the cells that produce pancreatic digestive juices. More than 80% of exocrine pancreatic cancers are adenocarcinomas, and nearly all of these are ductal adenocarcinomas (i.e. they start in the cells lining the ducts of the pancreas) [2].

What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer may be symptomless in its early stages, making it difficult to diagnose early, but symptoms may become apparent as the cancer grows. Currently, there are no screening tests that healthcare professionals find are reliable and accurate enough to detect pancreatic cancer at an early stage and don’t provide a false positive [2]. In addition, when symptoms do present, they can be non-specific, meaning that a patient might be misdiagnosed; this further shows why diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is so difficult until it is in its advanced stages.


If someone is over 60 years of age, have recently weight, and have been experiencing some or all of the symptoms described in the image above, and has been diagnosed with diabetes in the last year (pancreatic cancer may cause abnormally increased blood sugar levels), then GPs should refer them to have a CT scan (x-ray) [2].

What treatment options are available?

In the UK, pancreatic cancer is the 5th most common cause of cancer death, despite being the 11th most common cancer overall [2, 4]. This is largely due to delayed diagnosis, with diagnosis usually only occurring when the disease has progressed to advanced stages. Consequently, only 10%–20% of patients have resectable pancreatic cancer at presentation [2, 4].

Different subtypes of pancreatic cancers behave differently and therefore benefit from different treatment approaches. The treatment options available depend on the size and type of pancreatic cancer, the location and spread of the tumour, and the general health/preferences of the patient [1, 3].

Currently, surgical resection is the only curative treatment for pancreatic adenocarcinoma, but because of late diagnosis, the disease has a five-year survival rate of only 10%–15%. In England, for example, 25.4% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive the disease for one year or more, with just 7.3% surviving for five years or more [2]. Early diagnosis improves these rates, with those diagnosed at an early stage of the disease having a five-year survival rate of 30% [1]. With early diagnosis, there is an increased likelihood that a patient will be eligible for surgery, which is currently the only potentially curative treatment [1]. However, for patients who are unwilling or unfit to undergo surgery, alternatives include [4]:

  • Systemic chemotherapy or chemoradiotherapy
  • Surgical bypass
  • Ablative therapies
  • Endoscopic biliary and gastrointestinal stenting

These are considered palliative procedures targeting tumour-related symptoms, and the aim is only to improve patient quality of life [4]. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that patients are aware of the early-stage symptoms of pancreatic cancer, encouraging them to seek help earlier and hopefully gain quicker access to potentially life-saving surgery or other treatments.

#NoTimeToWait  #DemandBetter  #WearPurple   #PancreaticCancer

The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content is for general information purposes only. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or medical condition.


  1. Pancreatic Cancer Action. Pancreatic Cancer Action: Saving lives through early diagnosis. Available at: Accessed November 2021.
  2. Cancer Research UK. Pancreatic cancer. Available at: Accessed November 2021.
  3. National Health Service. Treatment: Pancreatic cancer. Available at: Accessed November 2021.
  4. Bond-Smith G, Banga N, Hammond TM et al. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma. BMJ 2012; 344: e2476.

Photo of Sahrish BashirAuthor: Sahrish Bashir Ι Account Executive Ι  Porterhouse Medical