November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. About 9, 900 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year. In this blog, information nurse Richard is busting some of the myths surrounding pancreatic cancer.

First up, let me explain where the pancreas is and what it does. It’s hidden deep inside the abdomen, behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It’s about 15cm long.

The pancreas makes digestive juices and hormones, including insulin.

  • Pancreatic juices help the body digest food, especially fats.
  • Insulin controls the amount of sugar (glucose) in the body. It helps move sugar into the body’s cells, so we can convert it to energy.

Myth: Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer

This is a common myth about types of cancer that are often diagnosed late. However, there are symptoms of pancreatic cancer. But they can be a bit vague and may be missed or mistaken for something else. Raising awareness of the symptoms will help to dispel this myth and improve survival.

Symptoms to be aware of are:

  • pain in the upper tummy area (abdomen) that can spread to the back
  • unexplained weight loss
  • jaundice – yellow, itchy skin
  • mid-back pain.

Myth: Only old people get pancreatic cancer

Like many types of cancer, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer increases with age. Nearly a half of all new cases occur in people in their 70s or older. But it can affect younger people  incidence begins to increase from about the age of 40.

It is rare in people under 40, but it does happen.

Myth: It only affects men

This just isn’t true. Pancreatic cancer affects both men and women equally. We should all be aware of the potential symptoms so we can get them checked.

Myth: Pancreatic cancer is always deadly

It’s true that the stats about pancreatic cancer survival aren’t great. But when caught early, pancreatic cancer is treatable – and also potentially curable. Survival rates greatly improve if the cancer can be removed, which is only really possible if the tumour is small, and hasn’t begun to spread.

So, the key message is to be aware of the symptoms and get diagnosed as soon as possible – which is true for most types of cancer.

Myth: There’s no good treatment

This depends on what you mean by “good treatment”. It is true that treatment may not always be able to cure pancreatic cancer. But if a cure isn’t possible, there are always treatment options to help control it for as long as possible and improve symptoms – so they are also “good” treatments.

Treatment to control the cancer and improve symptoms is often known as supportive care

Where can I find more information and support?

Check out this video of surgeon Charles Imber providing some more information about what pancreatic cancer is and what symptoms to look out for: