Pancreatic cancer is the 5th biggest cause of cancer death in the UK, however, it is set to become the 4th biggest by 2026 as other cancers’ survival rates continue to improve. The survival statistics for pancreatic cancer have not changed markedly in nearly 50 years, with less than 7% surviving 5 years.
Pancreatic Cancer Action was formed out of a desperate need to give more attention to this disease, which has been neglected for far too long. Founded by a pancreatic cancer survivor, Ali Stunt, who proves early diagnosis is achievable and survival is possible, our mission is to increase survival rates of pancreatic cancer by ensuring more people are diagnosed early and in time for surgery – currently the only potential for a cure – and improve the quality of life for patients.
The importance of Pancreatic Cancer awareness
There is a chronic lack of awareness in the UK among the public: almost half of patients have never heard of pancreatic cancer before their own diagnosis and a recent survey suggested that only 5% knew about the symptoms of pancreatic cancer. What’s more is that 70% of the general public don’t even know where their pancreas is.
As well as the lack of awareness of the disease, worryingly, people seem reluctant to go to the doctors due to being too busy, embarrassed or worried about what the doctor might find.
Raising awareness of pancreatic cancer and its symptoms is vital. If it is caught early, there are much greater treatment options and the chances of survival significantly increase. With pancreatic cancer, there is no screening test and there is only one potential treatment option that will save a patient’s life – surgery – and that is why raising awareness at every opportunity is crucial. Currently, due to late diagnosis most people die within 2-6 months of diagnosis.
PCA increases awareness of pancreatic cancer and its signs and symptoms amongst the general public, and healthcare professionals such as GPs and pharmacists.
The role of Pharmacists within Pancreatic Cancer
Pharmacies are at the forefront of every community, more people than ever are visiting their local pharmacy team first for clinical advice and health concerns.
Pharmacists and their support staff are extremely well placed to identify key signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer by engaging with patients and by the medications prescribed and bought over the counter. Maybe a customer is suffering from indigestion that won’t go away along with back pain and you are noticing they have been back to buy medication to relieve their symptoms for longer than normal. This could be a red flag for pancreatic cancer.
What’s more pharmacy teams are well placed to spot the associated risk factors for pancreatic cancer such as smoking, diabetes, obesity and chronic pancreatitis. They also have relationships with their patients and customers and are readily available to offer advice and expertise to patients and can refer them to their GP if necessary.
How students can help?
Pancreatic Cancer Action have developed free online, interactive, NPA accredited training on pancreatic cancer. There are two modules, one for pharmacists and one for pharmacy teams. These are the very first modules of their kind in the world to focus on diagnosis of pancreatic cancer for pharmacy.
Taking the module can help pharmacy students identify the risk factors and symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer and reflect on the communication skills needed when speaking to customers who are suffering from, or showing symptoms, of pancreatic cancer.
Completing the module will take around 10 minutes and help keep pancreatic cancer at the forefront of your mind when coming into contacting with patients that are suffering from the common symptoms of pancreatic cancer.
We also encourage students to help raise awareness of the disease on their campus and within their local community. Whether it’s holding an awareness stand, handing out information or using social media, Pancreatic Cancer Action have lots of free materials and resources to help you do this and will support you all the way.
To access the pharmacy e-learning modules on pancreatic cancer and other resources, such as free materials and patient information, please visit: www.pancreaticcanceraction.org/pharmacy-resources
This article was written by Lu Constable