THE BLOG

Pancreatic Cancer Has Been Overlooked Too Long - It's Time for Change

15/10/2015 17:27 BST | Updated 15/10/2016 10:12 BST

My husband, Kevin lost his mother to pancreatic cancer in 1969. Forty years later, he was diagnosed with the same disease in 2009 at the age of 48.

Pancreatic cancer is a disease which has made hardly any progress in over 40 years. Despite pancreatic cancer being the fifth highest cancer killer in the UK, it receives less than 1.5% of the research spend. This cancer has been overlooked for way too long.

This is why I started a petition on Change.org to stop Abraxane, the only effective drug available on the Cancer Drugs Fund list for pancreatic cancer patients, from being axed. The Abraxane campaign is vitally important because it represents long overdue progress for pancreatic cancer. My family history demonstrates only too well how no progress has been made in this disease in over 40 years.

Let's start in 1969 when my mother-in-law Jean died from pancreatic cancer aged just 27, leaving behind three young children - Kevin was the eldest at 8 years old. I don't imagine it even entered Jean's head that one of her children may suffer the same fate as her in years to come. I would guess her thought process was taken up with fear at leaving her children and husband to face a future without her. I would imagine she also felt cheated that life was being cut so tragically short. Even if Jean did fleetingly consider that one of her children may encounter the same fate in years to come, she would surely have assumed that progress would be made and that they would fare far better.

Fast forward exactly 40 years to 2009. Kevin, Jean's eldest child, who was also now my husband died of pancreatic cancer aged 48 and the reality was that nothing had changed. In the 40 years between Jean's and Kevin's deaths absolutely no progress had been made. I struggled to come to terms with this. How could something have stood still for 40 years - it seemed inconceivable that so few can survive pancreatic cancer (17% one year, 4% five years and only 1% ten years).

I understand that pancreatic cancer is difficult to detect and presents symptoms late but what I don't understand is why so little funding and awareness has been afforded to it over the years. It's the UK's fifth highest cancer killer yet it receives only 1.4% of the research spend. Surely there's a correlation between lack of funding and lack of progress which brings me to why Abraxane represents progress.

Abraxane is not curative but is proven to extend life. It's the first breakthrough drug for pancreatic cancer in 17 years. It gives a glimmer of hope. In trials it was proven to extend life when given to metastatic pancreatic cancer patients in combination with the first line chemotherapy. The median time gained was two months but, there are cases where patients have survived up to two additional years.

It's an unknown when a patient commences Abraxane, how they will fare in terms of extra time attained but, even if it is only two months, this is significant. When you consider that a metastatic pancreatic cancer patient survives three to six months, achieving an additional two months adds a third onto their lives. Extra time to spend with loved ones, get affairs in order, do a favourite thing one last time or maybe survive long enough for a family event.

The decision to take Abraxane away from patients in England is unfair. It's still available in Scotland, Wales and most of the rest of Europe so why should patients in Englandbe disadvantaged. Taking away this progress and offer of hope from a cancer with no progress or hope attaching to it is not acceptable. There's also the concern at how the removal of Abraxane may affect future trials in England where the drug could be used to build on progress with new drugs coming through.

Carl Denning is a friend I met through my campaigning. Carl is aged 41 but was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer aged 38. Carl had surgery (the only potentially curative option but not many are found early enough). Sadly, Carl has recently learnt that the cancer has returned and further treatment is required. Carl could be a potential candidate for Abraxane at some point in the future. Why should Carl be denied Abraxane when someone in a similar position in Scotland, Wales and most of the rest of Europe will have access to it.

Most other cancers have seen progress over 40 years - some significant, others not so, but progress nonetheless. I think the fact that pancreatic cancer has seen no progress needs to be taken into account and I would call on Jeremy Hunt to grant us a meeting to listen to our real concerns about the removal of Abraxane from the Cancer Drugs Fund List. Pancreatic cancer has been overlooked for way too long and to overlook it again in this way is wrong.