According to a recent survey Northern Ireland has a worryingly low knowledge of the pancreas and pancreatic cancer, with 61% knowing ‘almost nothing’ about the disease. Moreover, 81% of residents were also unable to name a single symptom, a figure that is not only the second highest in the UK but considerably higher than other areas including London (66%).
What’s more, concerningly, 73% of people surveyed in the country could not name any of the factors that increase the chances of getting pancreatic cancer and are therefore unaware of their own risk.
Pancreatic cancer is not just an old man’s cancer. It affects almost 10,000 people a year and men and women are affected equally, with 40% of those diagnosed under the age of 69.
Pancreatic cancer is the UK’s 5th biggest cancer killer (soon to overtake breast cancer as the 4th) and you are 5 times more likely to die of the disease than in a car accident.
The pancreas is an essential organ responsible for producing enzymes that help break down your food and hormones which control your blood sugar levels. Pancreatic cancer occurs when a tumour forms in the pancreas and currently, there is no early detection (screening) test for the disease.
Despite having a shockingly low survival rate, it is possible to survive pancreatic cancer: if a patient is diagnosed early and able to have surgery, 5-year survival increases from less than 7% to around 30%. Knowing the symptoms and risk factors associated with pancreatic cancer can help increase early diagnosis and save lives.
This Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Pancreatic Cancer Action is urging the public to be more aware of the signs and symptoms and to see their GP if they are experiencing one or more of the following:
- Upper abdominal pain or discomfort
- Mid-back pain
- Persistent indigestion that doesn’t go away with medication
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pale and smelly stools
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes, known as jaundice. If you notice this symptom, you should seek urgent medical assistance.
Grainne O’Neill, from Armagh, sadly lost her mummy to pancreatic cancer.
Grainne says, “’Early diagnosis means that another family might get to avoid the heartache that we went through.
Early diagnosis will gives those patients a fighting chance. My mummy was only 54 when she passed away, I don’t want this to happen to other families. With pancreatic cancer we need hope and we need change.”
This November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, where more than 80 organisations from 30 countries from around the globe come together to highlight the one of the world’s deadliest cancers.