Pancreatic cancer has the worst survival of any of the 21 most common cancers, with only around 5% in the UK living for five years or more following diagnosis. It is the 10th most common cancer in the UK, with around 9,400 new cases diagnosed annually, and yet is the 5th largest cause of cancer death, with around 8,700 deaths each year. It is predicted to become the 4th largest cause of cancer death in the UK by 2030, overtaking breast cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer UK have a team of specialist nurses, who provide support and information to people affected by pancreatic cancer via the charity's dedicated Support Line which is the only one of its kind in the UK. The specialist nurses support people with pancreatic cancer, their family and friends, by providing information about symptoms, diagnosis and potential treatments, as well as living and coping with the disease. I'm a Pancreatic Cancer UK specialist nurse, so in light of recent news about the passing of much-loved TV agony aunt Denise Robertson from pancreatic cancer, I want to tell you more about the disease.
What is pancreatic cancer?
Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the pancreas grow out of control, forming a mass of tissue called a tumour. It can occur in the head, body or tail of the pancreas. At Pancreatic Cancer UK we produce a huge amount of information about the disease which can be found here
Pancreatic cancer doesn't usually give rise to any symptoms or signs in the early stages. This is the main reason why it can be so difficult to detect and diagnose and contributes to the poor survival rates. As the cancer grows the symptoms it causes will depend on the type of pancreatic cancer and where it is in the pancreas.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms include tummy pain which can spread to the back, indigestion, significant unexplained weight loss, a change in bowel pattern which may include oily floating poo, and yellow skin or eyes or itchy skin.
We suggest that if anyone has jaundice, they visit their GP as soon as possible, and people who have any of the other symptoms, unexplained and lasting for more than four weeks should also visit their GP. Some of the other symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, indigestion/heartburn, fever and shivering, and diabetes.
More information about signs and symptoms can be found on our website. People can also call me or one of my nursing colleagues on the Support Line with any questions about symptoms.
How to cope with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis
Everyone reacts differently to being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There is no 'right' way to feel. It's ok to be upset, angry, and to cry, shout or swear. If you have been unwell for some time, you may even feel a bit relieved that at least now you know what is wrong with you. It can take time to come to terms with your diagnosis. You might find you have good and bad days. You will probably go through a range of emotions, from feeling positive and determined to get well again, to feeling low or worried about the future.
At Pancreatic Cancer UK we are here for you and support is available.
Our Support Line is a lifeline for thousands of people with pancreatic cancer, their families and friends. Myself and our nursing team understand the issues you might be facing and can support you in coping with pancreatic cancer.
0808 801 0707
Monday to Friday 10am-4pm
Our online community is a supportive place for everyone affected by pancreatic cancer. Day and night you will find others who understand what you are going through.
We produce the most up-to-date information on everything you need to know about pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic Cancer UK are supporting those affected by the disease, investing in ground breaking research, lobbying for greater recognition of pancreatic cancer, and being a voice for everyone involved in the fight. Together we are taking on pancreatic cancer.