Only 15% of people would seek urgent help if they were experiencing this life threatening symptom

Antrim Area Hospital

A Northern Ireland survey has found that only 15% of people would go to A&E if they were experiencing a possible life threatening symptom of pancreatic cancer.

The survey carried out by Pancreatic Cancer Action, found that only 15% of people in Northern Ireland would go to A&E if their skin was turning yellow and itchy (jaundice), and a further 17% would wait to see if it went away without any medical treatment.

In comparison, 94% of people would seek medical help for classic symptoms of cancers such as a lump.

Jaundice can be a serious symptom of pancreatic cancer, liver cancer and bile duct cancer. It is often the symptom of either severe or advanced conditions such as liver disease or cancer. It is not an early stage symptom, so it is vital to get it checked urgently.

Becky Rice, Health Information Officer at Pancreatic Cancer Action, says: “It is shocking that such few people would go to A&E if they were experiencing yellowing of the skin and the eyes and itching of the skin.”

“It is vital to seek urgent medical help, such as going to A&E, if you have jaundice. Even if the cause is not cancer, the conditions that can cause jaundice are serious and need to be treated.”

The survey also revealed that 60% of people in Northern Ireland had heard of pancreatic cancer but knew nothing about the symptoms and 2% of people have never even heard of pancreatic cancer.

Other symptoms of pancreatic cancer include: upper abdominal pain or discomfort; unexplained weight loss; mid-back pain or discomfort; and indigestion and pale and smelly stools.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms that are not normal for you, you must seek professional medical help from you GP or pharmacist.

Pancreatic Cancer Action is working in partnership with local group Pancreatic Cancer Northern Ireland (NIPanC) to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and break down the barriers that are preventing people from being diagnosed early.

For example, 34% of people being too embarrassed to see the doctor and 37% of people worrying what the doctor might find.

Dr Hilary Jones, GP patron of PCA, says: “You should never be embarrassed to go to the GP with symptoms you have and it’s important to always get them checked. We’ve seen our fair share of symptoms throughout our careers as GPs and expect to see lots more – it’s what we do!”

There is no screening test currently available for pancreatic cancer, which is why it is so vital to be aware of the associated signs and symptoms. Worryingly, 48% of people surveyed believed that there were screening tests for all cancers.

What’s more, 89% of people surveyed believed that cancer survival rates for all cancer have significantly improved in the last 40 years. Yet pancreatic cancer survival rates have barely changed over that time – with only 7% of patients surviving for 5 years.

Pancreatic Cancer Action, has launched a symptom awareness campaign across Northern Ireland to educate the public, GP’s and pharmacists. PCA is placing symptom adverts across the region and providing free resource packs to pharmacy teams and GPs, which include free e-learning on pancreatic cancer.

Ultimately, the charity hopes to increase awareness of pancreatic cancer and improve the shocking survival rate, through earlier diagnosis of the disease.

If members of the public would like to find out how to raise further awareness or donate, please visit: www.panact.org/pcaware-donate

If you are a healthcare professional and would like to find out about the free resources that Pancreatic Cancer Action are providing, visit their new healthcare section of the website at: pancreaticcanceraction.org/healthcare-professionals/

For details about Northern Ireland Pancreatic Cancer, a supporter of Pancreatic Cancer Action and Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, please visit: www.nipanc.org

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