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Pancreatic cancer patients share the importance of knowing signs and symptoms

19th November 2020

The Rapid Diagnostic Service at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust has given a pancreatic cancer patient a new chance at life, after spotting the symptoms that had been left untreated for months due to a difficult diagnosis.

Pancreatic cancer is seldom detected at its early stages, because it often doesn’t cause symptoms until it has progressed. The Rapid Diagnostic Service helps patients who present with vague but worrying symptoms by fast-tracking them to get a diagnosis.

Alice's story

Mrs Alice Walmsley, who lives in Preston, had visited her local GP complaining of abdominal pain after eating, but was initially diagnosed with indigestion problems. After the symptoms continued, she was sent for a CT scan at Royal Preston Hospital.

As a result, she was then urgently referred via the Rapid Diagnostic Service to East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. Within days she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent a nine-hour operation to remove the tumour. The collaborative work between the teams at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and East Lancashire Hospitals Trust is key to the success of the Rapid Diagnostic Service, which aims to improve and enhance patient experience and outcomes.

This is part of a Lancashire and South Cumbria wide initiative designed to support earlier diagnosis, with improved patient experience, for all patients with symptoms that could indicate cancer. NHS hospitals across the area are working together with Primary Care and other partners to strengthen cancer diagnostic services in order to confirm or exclude a cancer diagnosis sooner. This will improve outcomes for local people diagnosed with cancer.

Mrs Walmsley is now recovering at home following the successful operation. She said:

“I cannot speak highly enough of the care and attention by the doctors who conducted the Whipple operation, and also to all the nurses attending to me with great care and attention now I am home. I want to encourage everyone to understand the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer, as it could help save their life.”

November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, and the Rapid Diagnostic team want to encourage the public to ‘Think Pancreatic Cancer’.

As Mrs Walmsley only presented with one of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and didn’t experience any weight loss, it made it more difficult to diagnose. One in four patients who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer sadly die within 28 days of receiving their diagnosis, so doctors at the hospital are very keen to highlight the importance of knowing the signs and symptoms.

The most common symptoms are jaundice: the whites of your eyes or skin could turn yellow, you may also have itchy skin, darker pee or paler poo than usual; loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to do; back pain; nausea or vomiting or a persistent change in bowel habits. If you have any of these symptoms, it is important to contact your GP to be checked out.

Vicki Stevenson-Hornby, specialist Pancreatic Nurse at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said:

“Pancreatic cancer does not have a screening programme, affects males and females in equal numbers and has seen very little improvement in survival rates in almost 50 years. But by raising awareness of the disease and of the symptoms, there is greater possibility of more patients receiving an earlier diagnosis and of being offered potentially lifesaving surgery.”


Video: Jen's story - from diagnosis to recovery

Transcript

[Jen] It was when I went to the toilet and my pee was dark yellow, going on orange. So I phoned my GP up, he just got the symptoms and I’d noticed the whites of my eyes were a bit yellow so I gave him the symptoms and everything and he said right, he said I'll be back with you in five minutes. He phoned me back in five minutes and said alright, I want you at Preston Urgent Care within the next half hour. So I was sort of a bit panicked, then it was all go from: there tests - different blood tests. I was there probably all week, going through all the different scans and everything like that: it could be a bit of tissue that was blocking, or it could be a tumour and still I didn't crack on then. I mean, I'd heard of pancreatic, but I didn't know where it was or what it did or anything like that and then I got referred to Blackburn here, and that's when they took an endoscopy to put a stent in and it all went from there. There's a leaflet around there that I just picked up and it had the symptoms and, looking back on them, I had all those symptoms, but never put it down to anything, you know, being the pancreas or anything. I was lucky that, you know, I got in there and they could offer me an alternative to nothing. So, you know, it’s important that you get help or get advised sooner than later.

 

[Vicki] The Rapid Diagnostic Centre or Rapid Diagnostic Service is something which is an initiative from NHS England and it’s aimed at trying to achieve an earlier diagnosis of cancer. This particular Rapid Diagnostic Service is aimed at trying to get an earlier diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, because the earlier we can make that diagnosis perhaps the patient receiving that diagnosis will have more treatment options and perhaps be eligible for potentially curative surgery.

 

[Daren] Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease. If we look at the survival over the last 50 to 60 years it has essentially flat lined, whereas other cancers such as prostate, colorectal cancer and breast cancer has improved over time. I mean one of the challenges is actually making a diagnosis really early. So it's really important that when patients have signs and symptoms that they present to their GP early o'clock. That they don't stop and think oh it's just a bit of stomach upset or it's just a bit of indigestion, that they should really seek help. And these symptoms tend to be quite vague and that's one of the challenges the public need to be really aware that if you have vague symptoms: stomach upset; indigestion; a bit of weight loss; back pain; not feeling too right; bloating; it's not settling; you should seek medical attention. Go see your GP, ask them - could this be pancreatic cancer?


Pancreatic cancer symptoms

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer could include:

  • Jaundice: the whites of your eyes or your skin could turn yellow, you may also have itchy skin, darker pee and paler poo than usual
  • loss of appetite or losing weight without trying to
  • persistent changes in bowel habits – poo becoming loose or harder
  • back pain
  • pain at the top part of your tummy and your back, which may feel worse when you are eating or lying down and better when you lean forward
  • nausea – feeling sick
  • vomiting – being sick
  • new diagnosis of diabetes.

Advice and support about cancer signs and symptoms