BBC News has reported a need for earlier detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer to improve patient survival rates. Pancreatic cancer grows in the body for an average of 20 years before becoming terminal. The fact that the cancer is slow growing should afford far earlier opportunities to diagnose and treat the disease successfully. This is especially important given that pancreatic cancer proves to be terminal in approximately 95% of cases.
According to research by US scientists, it takes an average of 11.7 years for a single gene mutation in the pancreas to become a 'mature' pancreatic tumour. Therefore, if the cancer is spotted during this stage, survival rates will increase dramatically. From this point on, it takes another 6.8 years before cells from the pancreatic tumour spread to another organ, providing another window to diagnose and treat. Once the tumour has spread to other organs, ie metastasis, average patient survival is only three years.
UK survival rates have not improved for 40 years and Dr Bert Vogelstein explains that the new research has proven that this is down to the fact that the cancer is often so advanced at the time of diagnosis that regrettably little can be done. With an aggressive cancer, it can be difficult to make a diagnosis and start treatment in time, but with pancreatic cancer developing much more slowly, this should not necessarily be the case. However, in order to achieve this, further research needs to be undertaken.
Pancreatic cancer is the UK's fifth biggest cause of cancer death yet receives less than 2% of overall research funding. Greater research is needed to be able to effectively diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer in its early stages