Publish date: 12 May 2023

pancreatic.jpgA Liverpool pancreatic cancer expert is raising awareness of the disease after the sad deaths of high-profile cancer sufferers, talk show host Jerry Springer and actress Vicky Wright.

Pancreatic cancer occurs when cells in your pancreas develop mutations in their DNA. Although it is the 10th most common cancer in the UK, people may not recognise the early symptoms and know when to seek medical help.

Professor Daniel Palmer, Consultant in Medical Oncology at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool, specialises in pancreatic cancer and has provided some useful advice to help people learn more about the signs and symptoms, risk factors, and the treatments available.

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer begins in the tissues of your pancreas — an organ in your abdomen that lies behind the lower part of your stomach. Your pancreas releases enzymes that aid digestion and produces hormones that help manage your blood sugar.

What symptoms should people look out for?

Prof Palmer highlights the importance of listening to your body and recognising any changes that do occur, such as:

  • Abdominal pain that radiates to a person's back
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Jaundice, or the yellowing of a person's skin, as well as the whites of their eyes
  • Stools that are light-coloured
  • Urine that is dark in colour
  • Itchy skin
  • A new diabetes diagnosis, or an existing case of diabetes that is becoming more difficult to control
  • Blood clots
  • Fatigue

Are some people more at risk of developing pancreatic cancer?

There are a number of risk factors for pancreatic cancer that cannot be controlled such as ageing, a family history of pancreatic cancer, and inherited genetic syndromes. However, there are factors that you can change, including:

  • Tobacco use – about 25% of pancreatic cancers are thought to be smoking-related. Risks start to drop once a person stops smoking
  • Weight – people whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30 or more have a 20% higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer
  • Chronic pancreatitis, or long-term inflammation of the pancreas, which is often seen with heavy alcohol use and smoking
  • Exposure to certain chemicals used in dry cleaning and metal working industries
Prof Dan Palmer.jpg
Prof Dan Palmer

Prof Palmer advises: “You can reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer by quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and choosing a healthy diet. Consider meeting with a genetic counsellor if you have a family history of pancreatic cancer – you can find further information on genetic testing on the Cancer Research UK website.”

What treatments are there for pancreatic cancer?

Treatment for pancreatic cancer looks different for everyone, depending on:

  • The size and type of pancreatic cancer
  • Where it is in the organ
  • If it has spread
  • Your general health

It may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and what is known as ‘supportive care’ to help with any side-effects or other health problems as a result of pancreatic cancer.

Prof Palmer and his colleagues at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre specialise in providing highly-specialist chemotherapy, radiotherapy and supportive care for pancreatic cancer and work closely with surgical colleagues in Liverpool University Hospitals.

Prof Palmer highlights the importance of early diagnosis and explains: “If pancreatic cancer is found early and it has not spread, you may be able to have surgery to remove it, usually followed by a course of chemotherapy to reduce the risk of it returning.

“If the cancer has begun to spread outside the pancreas, people will usually need chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. It’s important to speak to your GP if you have any concerns or are experiencing any symptoms that could be pancreatic cancer.”