Pancreatic cancer remains a disease where more than 80 per cent of patients are diagnosed at a point when there is no option for curative treatment. Indeed, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month in November serves as a timely reminder to primary care nurses of the need to improve awareness of this silent killer so that red flags are spotted and acted upon whenever there is doubt over the cause of unexplained symptoms.
Every year in the UK, around 8800 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and 8700 die. Less than four per cent of people survive for five years or more – a statistic which has hardly changed in the last 40 years.1
One of the key reasons for this shockingly low survival rate is late diagnosis and occasional failure to recognise the symptoms. The condition is notorious for presenting with non-specific symptoms that can lead both patients and healthcare professionals to consider a range of other misleading causes (such as gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer or dyspepsia) before considering referral to a specialist for further investigation. However, nurses – whether in a clinical or community setting – are often best placed to notice and act upon any insidious yet persistent signs (Box 1).