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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Most GPs ill-equipped to diagnose one of the deadliest cancers

Date: 1/5/2019
Summary: Just one in 10 GPs says they have the tools they need to diagnose pancreatic cancer early enough for treatment, according to Pancreatic Cancer UK.

A quarter of all patients found to have the disease die within a month of being diagnosed, and it has the lowest survival rate of any of the common cancers.

The vague nature of its symptoms - such as back pain, indigestion and weight-loss - mean that it often goes undetected until it has spread to other parts of the body, ruling out the only possible treatment option - surgery.

Pancreatic Cancer UK's survey of more than 1,000 family doctors found that half had some of the tools they needed, but few felt confident they were fully equipped to diagnose the illness at an early stage.

Referral by GPs who suspect the presence of the disease for ultrasound, CT, or MRI scans significantly improves survival rates, however currently most diagnoses are the result of an emergency.

GP Dr Ellie Cannon says she "can't access scans quickly enough".

"The access to imaging for GPs is going to have to improve. If we have to go through a specialist it takes too long to get those scans. If the government really want to do this they have to commit to access for GPs."

Harriet Evans' father Iwan died when he was 61, a year after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She said: "Just after I found out I saw him playing with my nephew, and I sort of realised he's never going to be there with my kids, or if I get married.

"And I think that's something I'm going to find particularly difficult. I know I've got an incredible family and I know they'll help me get through it. But it's not going to be the same as if he was there.

"He never really showed any fear throughout his cancer journey and we're all incredibly proud of him for that, but if I can stop any family from going through that and being able to be diagnosed and treated and not have to go through what my family have gone through I think that he would be proud."

Pancreatic Cancer UK has launched a new research project aimed at developing the first-ever simple test for the disease within the next five years.

It will try to enhance the sensitivity and accuracy of biomarkers for pancreatic cancer, collect a new biobank of samples from patients with vague symptoms, and test new tools in a clinical trial to consider how a dedicated diagnosis pathway for pancreatic cancer could be implemented in the NHS.

Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "For too long pancreatic cancer has been able to silently go undetected, devastating families. Thousands of patients a year, still reeling from hearing the word cancer, are told it's too late, that nothing can be done for them.

That has to stop. We have to give doctors the tools they need to detect the warning signs earlier, so they can ensure those who need it, receive treatment as soon as possible."

The Department for Health says early diagnosis is part of their long term plan for the NHS and they want to see all cancer patients diagnosed within 28 days.

A DfT spokesperson said: "Cancer survival is a priority for this Government and survival rates are at a record high. We have been clear that more progress needs to be made on the less survivable cancers, including pancreatic cancer.

NHS England has confirmed £200m to fund new ways to rapidly detect and treat cancer."

But many fear the 28-day target is unrealistic, only a fifth of GPs surveyed believe it is achievable for patients with pancreatic cancer.

Dr Ellie Cannon said: "I haven't see evidence yet that the funding is good enough to commit to this early diagnosis. We have to have access to scanning in order to give patients a chance of survival."

Source: SKY News

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