Wednesday 17 January 2018

Urgent need for testing to cut high death toll of pancreatic cancer, Irish scientists warn

Dr Naomi Walsh, of the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology at Dublin City University
Dr Naomi Walsh, of the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology at Dublin City University
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Shocking new figures about survival rates show that nearly four in five Irish people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer will die within a year.

Almost 500 new patients are told annually they have the disease. About 400 will be dead within 12 months.

The stark statistics come as a UK charity has warned that pancreatic cancer will become one of the top four killer cancers in the next decade. Pancreatic UK forecast yesterday that by 2026, some 11,279 people are expected to die every year from the disease, a 28pc rise on the 8,817 in 2014.

A lack of medical breakthroughs in diagnosing the cancer early means many patients are diagnosed too late to receive surgery across the world.

The National Cancer Registry of Ireland said pancreatic cancer was among the top five causes of deaths from the disease in women and men. The underlying risk may be increasing due to factors such as more people being overweight.

Dr Naomi Walsh, of the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology at Dublin City University, has just started research on DNA changes which could help in the development of an earlier screening test for the disease. She warned pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers.

Dr Walsh said: "93pc of patients will die within five years. The poor prognosis is mainly attributable to late diagnosis and rapid spread of the disease. Therefore, in order to improve survival, more research into early detection and diagnosis is essential.

"Recently, advances in new technologies have uncovered changes in the DNA of patients with pancreatic cancer, but we do not fully understand the importance of these variants on pancreatic cancer development.

"This new research uses 3D models to study how these changes affect the development of pancreatic cancer and if they can be used to detect the disease at an early stage."

The good news for Irish patients, however, is that treatment for the disease has improved.

Mortality rates have declined since the 1980s and this is partly linked to a drop in smoking.

The centralisation of surgical and allied services to St Vincent's in Dublin with a satellite centre at Cork University Hospital, along with the recruitment of more surgeons, has allowed for a more co-ordinated approach.

The warning signs are vague which means the cancer can be advanced by the time it is picked up. The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer can often be pain in the back or stomach area. This may come and go at first and is often worse lying down or after eating. A person can also suffer unexpected weight loss and jaundice.

The cancer was the cause of death of former finance minister Brian Lenihan, who died in his early 50s in 2011.

The Irish Cancer Society said that people are free to contact the Cancer Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700 or email if they have any questions.

Irish Independent

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