Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month

Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month – NOV 2018

Breakthroughs in pancreatic cancer research are desperately needed. With the lowest five-year survival rate of all cancers in Australia (6.8%), it is shocking to think that these poor pancreatic cancer survival rates have not improved for nearly forty years.

  • It has one of, if not the, lowest survival rate of all the cancers.
  • Once diagnosed, patients have just an 8.7% survival rate beyond five years.
  • Unless caught early enough, most cases are inoperable. If diagnosed while surgery is still an option, a patient’s chance of surviving beyond five years increases tenfold.
  • The median survival rate is just 3-6 months.
  • While for most other cancers the death rate is declining, for pancreatic cancer, death rates are increasing.
  • In 2016, approximately 3100 people will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s estimated that 2800 people will not survive.


The pancreas is an organ about 6 inches long and shaped like a thin pear lying on its side. The wider end of the pancreas is called the head, the middle section is called the body, and the narrow end is called the tail. The pancreas is found deep inside your body, behind the stomach and in front of the spine.

The Pancreas has two main jobs in the body, it makes:

  • Enzymes – these help to digest (break down) foods.
  • Hormones – such as insulin and glucagon, which control blood sugar levels.


Pancreatic cancer occurs when a malignant tumour forms in the pancreas. Worldwide there are around 338,000 new cases each year. Pancreatic cancer affects men and women equally with incidence increasing from the age of 45. The average age at diagnosis is 72.

There are two main types of pancreatic cancer:

  • Exocrine tumours: These make up the vast majority of all pancreatic cancers (around 95%) and come from the cells that line the ducts in the pancreas which carry digestive juices into the intestine. These are called pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas. Other exocrine tumours of the pancreas are rarer, and include adenosquamous carcinomas and undifferentiated carcinomas.
  • Endocrine tumours: these are also known as neuroendocrine tumours, (NETS) and are much less common. The neuroendocrine tumours we discuss here are found in the pancreas and are called pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PNETS).

It is important to remember these symptoms can be caused by many different conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion, and aren’t usually the result of cancer. However, if you regularly experience one or more of these symptoms which are not normal for you, do not ignore them, contact your GP straight away. Keeping track of any symptoms you may be experiencing can be useful when discussing them with your GP.

The main symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer include:

  • Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, and/or very itchy skin.
  • Unexplained weight loss – Weight loss without trying.
  • Upper abdominal pain or discomfort Which may radiate to the back.
  • Mid-back pain or discomfort – Where a bra strap would sit and may be eased by leaning forward.
  • Indigestion that is not responding to medication.
  • Pale and smelly stools that don’t flush easily.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain on eating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • New onset diabetes – not associated with weight gain
  • Low mood or depression

It is important that if you are experiencing anything which is not normal for you to speak to you GP.