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Surgeon appeals for greater funding in bid to boost poor pancreatic cancer survival rates

By Lisa Smyth

Published 17/11/2015

A senior medic has called for more funding for research in a bid to improve treatments for pancreatic cancer
A senior medic has called for more funding for research in a bid to improve treatments for pancreatic cancer

A senior medic has called for more funding for research in a bid to improve treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Around 250 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with the disease each year, but official statistics say that only 12 of them will live longer than five years.

Dr Mark Taylor, a consultant hepatobiliary and pancreatic surgeon at the Mater Hospital in Belfast, said the poor survival rates are down to several factors.

He said many patients are diagnosed at an advanced stage because the symptoms are vague and can be attributed to other conditions, such as indigestion. By the time doctors find out what is wrong, it is often too late to provide any useful treatment.

"The whipple procedure followed by chemotherapy is the only show in town at the moment to try and achieve survival or even prolong life," he said.

"Even then, we are only able to perform the surgery on about 25% of people. We may take a large number of people to theatre but only do the surgery in about a quarter of cases.

"That is because when we open them up we find the disease has spread throughout the abdomen or it is too close to a major blood vessel."

Dr Taylor said it is imperative that more people are made aware of the symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

These include mid back pain, loss of appetite, indigestion, onset of diabetes without an obvious cause, unexplained weight loss, jaundice and pain on eating.

"Someone who has these symptoms and they haven't been resolved through simple medication should be referred for assessment," said Dr Taylor.

"Ivan's diagnosis is typical of people with pancreatic cancer, but the good news is he was able to have surgery and chemotherapy. "This increases the five-year survival rate to about 21%.

"Unfortunately, the patients who don't get this will only survive a matter of months.

"It is very frustrating for me as a doctor, especially when you look at bowel cancer that has spread to the liver and the five-year survival rate is now 45%.

"Nothing has changed in relation to pancreatic cancer, we need earlier diagnosis and more research to look at treatments."

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