Better access to diagnostic tools and care is needed for pancreatic cancer
Pancreatic Cancer A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Pancreatic Cancer highlights that people with the illness don’t generally have timely access to diagnosis and care.
Up to 90% are diagnosed in the advanced stages of the disease, when surgery (the only available treatment) is no longer an option. And the care patients receive tends to be inefficient, according to the report.
The report also says that, while there are many reasons for this, including lack of public and healthcare professional awareness of the symptoms of the condition, a big contributing factor is poor or delayed access to specialist care. The APPG concludes that it’s vital to ensure that all people with suspected pancreatic cancer see a relevant specialist “at the earliest opportunity.”
Ali Stunt, founder and CEO of the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action, says pancreatic cancer is often misdiagnosed as other disorders, resulting in people seeing the wrong specialist or not seeing a specialist at all.
“Another problem is that GPs don’t have direct access to diagnostic tests,” she adds. “What we need to see is GPs being able to order these tests themselves and have access to the results. This would enable them to send people to the relevant specialist, shortening considerably the time to diagnosis and allowing patients to receive the care they need as promptly as possible.”
Some European countries are already moving in this direction. For example, in Denmark people with symptoms that, according to their GP warrant further investigation, can go to diagnostic centres where they can have an endoscopy (an internal examination of the pancreas and biliary ducts), ultrasound exams and computed tomography (CT) scans.
“All of this happens in one centre, at a secondary care level. If the presence of pancreatic cancer is suspected, patients are fast tracked for further investigations, to assess whether or not their tumoural mass is malignant,” explains Ms Stunt.
“We don’t have at the moment any amazing drug or technology that we know is coming on-stream to help us move forward in pancreatic cancer treatment. And, even if we did find one today, it would take 10 to 15 years before it reaches the clinical environment. In the meantime our focus for pancreatic cancer has to be on improving early diagnosis, so that more patients have timely access to effective care. It’s the only way to change the pancreatic cancer landscape.”