Pancreatic cancer: shining a light on a killer disease

02 November 2019

Health campaigners are hoping to ‘shine a light’ on one the UK’s main cancer killers to raise public awareness of the symptoms and encourage early action when it comes to seeking medical advice.

Nearly 9,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year yet people are still in the dark about tell-tale symptoms.

Now it is hoped that Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month (PCAM), which runs throughout November, will help get the message across that early detection can mean successful treatment.

Campaigners are being encouraged to wear purple wigs – or even dye their hair purple – as they carry out fund-raising events and on November 21 – World Pancreatic Cancer Day - it is hoped that famous buildings and landmarks throughout the country can be lit-up purple.

“We want people to stand out and be noticed so what better colour than purple to get you noticed” said a PCAM organiser. “Of course it is great if we can raise funds during the month but what we really want to do is get the message across and make people aware of what pancreatic cancer is – do you realise that many people don’t even know where their pancreas is!

“In past years we have been lucky enough to light up several well-known buildings - including St Pancras railway station - but we are also hoping people will be able to turn local landmarks and even their own homes purple to support our campaign.”

According to the latest figures released by Cancer Research UK, in 2017 pancreatic cancer was the fifth most common cause of cancer death in the UK, accounting for 6% of all cancer deaths.

Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Cox

Spire Consultant Gastroenterologist Dr Mark Cox said: “Pancreatic cancer takes thousands of lives every year yet the public seem to know very little about it – particularly the signs to look out for if you think you might have the disease.”

“Because people aren’t aware of what to look out for it can delay early treatment and, as with all cancers, the quicker it is spotted the more effective the treatment.”

Tell-tale signs people should be on the lookout for include back pain, persistent, upper abdominal discomfort or sudden loss of weight.

“However there are many other symptoms that can point to pancreatic cancer which is what makes it so difficult to spot. An early CT scan can help detection so it is important that GPs are aware of all the symptoms and how to react if they think a patient needs treatment,” explained Dr Cox.

Although the actual cause of pancreatic cancer is still unknown there are many contributory factors to a person developing the disease.

“I’m afraid it is a case of ‘the usual suspects’ said Dr Cox. “Smoking, excessive alcohol and being overweight are all known to increase your risk of getting pancreatic cancer.

“Your diet is also important so eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, choose whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals and eat fish and poultry rather than red meats or processed foods.

“I know there are many other cancer awareness campaigns that seem to get a lot more attention but I really would like to see pancreatic cancer brought much more into the public spotlight. With early detection I am sure we can increase our rates of success so let’s make as many people aware as we possibly can.”

Pancreatic cancer has a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, jaundice, difficulty swallowing or nausea. If you are concerned about any of these, talk to your doctor. You can find your nearest Spire Hospital and book with a Spire private GP today.