Earlier diagnosis needed for pancreatic cancer

time:2023-06-04 14:52:46 source:Al Jazeera

A woman whose husband died from pancreatic cancer said a delay in his diagnosis meant he was unable to receive treatment.

It comes as an audit revealed there had been an 86% increase in cases of pancreatic cancer over two decades.

There were 283 confirmed cases in 2020, up from from 152 in 2001, when the last audit was carried out.

Susan Cooke lost her then-husband Colin just over 10 years ago and said the audit was "important".

It revealed patients were most commonly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer through hospital emergency departments.

Despite visiting his GP and an A&E department, it wasn't until a follow up visit two weeks later that Colin was eventually diagnosed.

"That delayed diagnosis meant that it was too late for any treatment," said Ms Cooke.

The 45-year-old died 11 weeks after his diagnosis.

The audit findings have led the NI director of the Royal College of Surgeons to call for "enhanced" services.

Mark Taylor, who is a pancreatic cancer surgeon, said cases were likely to rise because of "increasing age, obesity and diabetes".

"We can see on the ground how pancreatic cancer referrals are increasing and we must strengthen services in our response," Prof Taylor said.

"It is concerning that the most common route to diagnosis was via emergency admissions and the majority of patients presented with advanced (stage four) cancer where the cancer has spread to a distant site."

The audit is the first look at pancreatic cancer services in the UK since the pandemic.

It was funded by the local pancreatic cancer charity NIPANC and supported by the NI Cancer Registry and Queen's University Belfast in partnership with clinical staff in the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Key findings include:

Ms Cooke said the audit was important because it showed the number of people being diagnosed within emergency departments.

She said more awareness from Colin and herself, as well as the medical professionals involved in his treatment, would have made a difference to his diagnosis.

"A lot of the symptoms that come along on their own are very minor but when they're all put together they paint a different picture.

"Being diagnosed in the emergency department, our journey through that secondary care was not smooth."

She said she hoped the findings from the audit would inform efforts on awareness campaigns and support for families affected by the disease.

"We're talking about it much more in Northern Ireland... ten years ago, when my husband was diagnosed, I didn't know anybody else," she added.

On a more positive note, the audit revealed that patients accessed a range of support services including clinical nurse specialists.

And virtually all the patients were discussed by a multi-disciplinary team meeting prior to their first treatment - a key aspect of holistic, patient-centred care.

Dr Damien Bennett, interim director of the NI Cancer Registry, said patients needed better access to clinical trials.

"This audit shows that, unfortunately, most people with pancreatic cancer are still diagnosed with advanced disease, which leads to worse outcomes and poorer survival," Dr Bennett added.

The audit also revealed that 40% of patients did not have a treatment plan to reduce their tumour in 2019, a figure that increased to 46% in just over a year.

If more people can be diagnosed earlier and when they are fitter, they might be able to receive tumour-reducing therapies and survive longer, it found.

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