Has the NHS long-term plan missed out the less survivable cancers such a pancreatic cancer?

The NHS long term plan was announced last week, which explains how the healthcare service will develop over the next ten years. Cancer is mentioned as one of the focus areas of the long-term plan. However, there is a lack of focus on cancers like pancreatic cancer which currently cannot be screened for and are less survivable. 

The prime minister has set a target for early diagnosis of cancer to raise stage one and two diagnosis from 50% to 75%. However, the majority of pancreatic cancer cases are diagnosed at a late stage and therefore this is a target that is not very achievable for pancreatic cancer.[LC1] 

The plan has mentioned some points that could improve the survival rates of pancreatic cancer. For example[RR2] :

·         Lowering the threshold for GP’s to refer those suspected of cancer to a specialist, meaning there could be more testing and diagnosis of many cancers at an earlier stage.

·         Rapid diagnostic centres will be created to allow faster diagnosis of cancers such as pancreatic cancer, with vague or nonspecific symptoms which will allow blood tests, CT scans and results on the same day.

·         Personalised care is to increase, therefore people with a family history of pancreatic cancer may be tested and monitored to manage their personal risk and, genomic testing will help personalise treatment plans in the future.

·         Follow up pathways will be available for cancer survivors, including rapid access to support if someone is worried their cancer has returned.[LC3] 

·         Increased access to technology for patients so that they can see their records and have greater control over their care.

Pancreatic Cancer Action believe that these actions are promising but alongside increased diagnostic capacity and rapid diagnostic centres, we need to improve GP referrals and ensure that NICE referral Guidelines are utilised. Improvement also needs to be made so that there is greater training and awareness of symptoms for diagnosing clinicians.

The lack of detail in this plan for pancreatic cancer is a concern. The disease has the lowest survival rate of 18 common cancers and has become the fifth biggest cancer killer in the UK (set to become the 4th). Survival rates have not improved much in decades and we would like to see more of a focus on early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer so that more patients survive for longer.

Giving GPs greater access to diagnostic tools such as CT scans should also be a priority as the effectiveness of rapid diagnostic centres has been questioned and there will be challenges in creating these changes. 

Rebecca Rice, Health Information’s Officer at Pancreatic Cancer Action says, “Overall, the long-term plan offers some interesting developments in the early diagnosis and treatment of cancers.

However, over the past 20 years there have been at least 26 of these plans with no marked change in the outcomes for pancreatic cancer. The outlook for pancreatic cancer under this plan is uncertain.”

Pancreatic Cancer Action is committed to working towards earlier diagnosis of the disease so that surgery, currently the only cure, is made available to the sufferer. The charity fund research into early diagnosis, provide medical education programmes, and launch awareness campaigns.

The key focus of Pancreatic Cancer Action’s work in the healthcare sector is on improving early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with initiatives such as e-learning for GPs and pharmacists, GP symptom aware campaigns and award-winning public symptoms campaigns. For more information please go to www.panact.org

About Pancreatic Cancer Action

Pancreatic Cancer Action is a UK based charity whose mission is to improve the survival rate of pancreatic cancer through early diagnosis. The charity’s approach is to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer to the public, the medical community and Government, provide education and training on pancreatic cancer to medical professionals and fund research specifically into improving early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic Cancer Action was founded by Ali Stunt, who is a rare survivor of the disease who wanted to change the low survival rate.

Further information about pancreatic cancer

Each year, almost 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK.

  • Every day, 24 people will die of pancreatic cancer – that’s more than the number who will die in road traffic accidents.
  • Less than 7% of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will survive for more than five years – this is because the cancer is very advanced when diagnosed.  Unlike other cancers, this figure has not changed significantly in over 40 years. 

·         If patients are able to have surgery and diagnosed early, 5-year survival increases to 30%

  • There no early detection test for pancreatic cancer.
  • The UK has one of the lowest survival rates for pancreatic cancer in the world.
  • Just under half of patients are diagnosed after admission to A & E. 

References for above: https://pancreaticcanceraction.org/about-pancreatic-cancer/medical-professionals/stats-facts/facts-and-statistics/

Pancreatic cancer symptoms include

These six key symptoms to know:

–       Unexplained and significant weight loss

–       Abdominal pain or discomfort that can come and go, which tends to get worse when eating

–       Indigestion that’s not responding to prescribed medication

–       Yellowing of the skin and/or eyes, dark urine or very itchy skin (jaundice)

–       Fatty and pale stools that are smelly and hard to flush

–       Mid-back pain or discomfort

Ref: www.panact.org/symptoms

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