Pancreatic cancer patients 'should have enhanced scans to improve treatment'
The UK has one of the worst survival rates for pancreatic cancer in Europe, health experts have said as they set out new guidance on treating patients.
Pancreatic cancer leads to 23 deaths per day in Britain and the average patient survives for just four to six months after diagnosis, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Only 3% of patients survive for five years or longer and this figure has not improved for the last four decades, said Nice.
The symptoms of the disease are non-specific and the average patient visits their GP on at least three occasions before a diagnosis.
Indeed research published this week by the charity Pancreatic Cancer Action found that almost half of patients are diagnosed after a trip to A&E.
And of these, nine in 10 will be dead within a year, the charity found.
New guidance from Nice aims to help speed up diagnosis rates and details the most effective treatments for patients, depending on how advanced their cancer is.
The guidelines say patients should be offered enhanced scans early on which would help determine how advanced their cancer is.
This may help avoid unnecessary surgery among some patients, Nice said.
Surgery is the only potential cure, but for most, an operation is not possible if the cancer has spread.
Because of late diagnosis, only around 8% of people with pancreatic cancer are eligible for potentially curative surgery, Nice said.
In order to reduce the number of patients who have surgery unnecessarily - and who should instead get earlier access to chemotherapy - Nice has recommended patients should be given a PET-CT scan, which gives a more detailed review of the extent of the cancer than existing scans.
Nice estimates that using this scan in the diagnosis and staging of pancreatic cancer will result in a 20% reduction in operations.
Professor Mark Baker, director of the Centre for Guidelines at NICE, said: "The PET-CT scan could have a significant impact on the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer.
"It will mean that the staging process is more effective so that patients stand a better chance of getting the right treatment, at the right time."
Professor Chris Harrison, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: "It is important that patients with pancreatic cancer have an accurate assessment of whether the cancer has spread before undergoing major surgery.
"This guidance shows how modern diagnostic techniques can bring about more personalised cancer care, tailoring the treatment to the needs of the patient."
Anna Jewell, director of operations at the charity Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: "Making the PET-CT scan available must now be made a top priority.
"When that happens, we should see a real improvement in the quality of life of people with pancreatic cancer. In the long term, we also hope this will bring about progress in survival of the disease."