November is an opportunity to bring pancreatic cancer into focus by raising awareness and keeping hope alive for those living with the disease.
With one of the lowest survival rates of all major cancers, pancreatic cancer statistics have not changed significantly in more than 40 years.
Cabrini Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Surgeon Associate Professor Val Usatoff said the lack of awareness of pancreatic cancer made it a silent killer.
“People don’t think about pancreatic cancer until they get it and because the survival rates are low there isn’t the same awareness as there is of many other types of cancer,” A/Prof Usatoff said.
In 2016, pancreatic cancer was the fifth leading cause of cancer death in Australia.
A/Prof Usatoff said the best chance of increasing the survival rate of pancreatic cancer was through early diagnosis.
“People with pancreatic cancer often present late and have lower survival rates as a result,” he said.
“Because the pancreas is a deep, mostly silent, organ, pancreatic cancer often goes undiagnosed. In addition, symptoms can be vague so patients often seek the wrong kinds of treatment.”
A/Prof Usatoff said it was important to get any persistent symptoms checked out and to get a second opinion if necessary.
“Symptoms to watch out for include back pain, weight loss, stomach pain and new-onset diabetes,” he said.
“Survival rates are much higher for patients who receive an early diagnosis.”
Jaundice-like systems, including yellow skin, dark urine, itchy skin and yellow eyes can also be an indication of pancreatic cancer, which is usually confirmed with a CT scan.
“At Cabrini, we have the latest CT and PET scanners and MRI technology. We have radiotherapy and oncology services onsite so patients can receive all of their treatment under one roof,” A/Prof Usatoff said.
“Treatment usually involves surgery and chemotherapy, patients need both in order to get the best outcomes.”
“At Cabrini, we have a multidisciplinary approach to care, where specialists meet on a regular basis to discuss individual treatment options for each patient. This means that when you come to Cabrini you aren’t just seeing one specialist, you are seeing an entire medical team and patients can be assured they are getting a broad, team opinion to their treatment.”
Cabrini also performs a high number of Whipple’s procedures, a complex operation to remove the head of the pancreas. International data demonstrates that the best outcomes from Whipple’s surgery is achieved by not only high volume surgeons but also those working in high volume centres such as Cabrini.
During Pancreatic Cancer Awareness month, A/Prof Usatoff reminded people to be aware of symptoms, to not ignore persistent pain and to seek a second opinion if you are still concerned.