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Latest stats show 60% of people know “almost nothing” about this disease

17 November is World Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Day. But as many as 60 per cent of people still say they know ‘almost nothing’ about pancreatic cancer. So we’ve put together a run-down all about this destructive disease, and what we’re doing to help.

How does pancreatic cancer start, and what should I look out for?

The pancreas is a large gland which lies behind the stomach, in front of the spine. It is responsible for producing many hormones we need for digestion and energy use, including insulin.

This type of cancer develops when cells in the pancreas start to grow out of control and develop tumours. Not much is known about how and why pancreatic cancer starts, known risk factors include smoking, genetics and family history, age, and certain other health factors. Researchers are working hard to find out all the answers.

Symptoms for pancreatic cancer tend to be similar to many other less serious conditions. They can include abdominal or back pain, weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), loss of appetite, nausea, changes in how you go to the toilet, and diabetes. You can find out more about symptoms and causes of pancreatic cancer on NHS choices.

Why do we need more research?

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed late, when it is more advanced and harder to treat. Survival rates for this cancer have refused to budge since the 1970s- just 1% of people diagnosed will survive 10 years or more. Better ways to diagnose and treat this  cancer are a huge research priority. But as we recently reported, glimmers of hope do exist, and progress is being made. Here’s how we’re helping.

A new therapy strategy for pancreatic cancer

Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke at Barts Cancer Institute in London is testing a dual combination therapy for pancreatic cancer.

“Pancreatic cancer has several specific features that make it particularly difficult to treat,” says Professor Hodivala-Dilke. “These include the fact that they have a poor blood supply, which means that the much of the chemotherapy that we treat the tumour with never even reaches it. In addition, pancreatic cancers can have complex genetic mutations that can alter therapy responses.”

With the help of a previous Worldwide Cancer Research grant, the researchers have already developed a dual action treatment strategy for some pancreatic cancers with mutations in certain genes. Now they are extending these studies to include pancreatic cancers with other types of genetic mutations.

"Our data will provide new information that will help us to treat this  cancer better, hopefully in the not too distant future,” says Professor Hodivala-Dilke.

Read more about Professor Hodivala-Dilke’s research with us here.

A pancreatic cancer vaccine 

Dr Li Wang at the Medical College of Wisconsin in the US is developing a new type of ‘cancer vaccine’ immunotherapy treatment for pancreatic cancer. Immunotherapy treatments, which involve training the body’s own immune system to fight against cancer, are already doing well in a number of clinical trials for other cancers, and Dr Wang and her team want to see the disease targeted in this way too.

They think they might have found a way to enhance one particular type of upcoming cancer vaccine immunotherapy, to make it effective against pancreatic cancer. “Ultimately we hope this new work will help us begin to formulate and test a brand new therapy for patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Dr Wang.

You can read more about Dr Wang’s project here.

Finding ways to prevent pancreatic cancer

Dr Núria Malats and her team at the CNIO in Madrid, Spain is studying how bacteria and chronic inflammation could contribute to causing pancreatic cancer.

“Earlier studies have linked the development of pancreatic cancer with chronic, long-term, inflammation, and bacterial organisms living in the human body can sometimes cause chronic inflammation. It is imperative we assess inflammatory-related factors like bacteria and their association with pancreatic cancer,” says Dr Malats.

“I hope this work will help increase our knowledge about what can alter a person’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer. This in turn could help us to find new and effective ways to prevent this disease.”

Read more about Dr Malats project here.

What else can we do?

This cancer often gets left behind, and that’s why it deserves our attention this World Pancreatic Cancer Day, so join us for #WPCD on Thursday the 17 November 2016. Share this article and think about giving a gift so that more research can happen.  You can give a gift easily by clicking here.

Further information

Search all of our research projects, including more projects here.

Find out more about current diagnosis and treatment practices for pancreatic cancer here.

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