November is a month of awareness for a few cancers. I will discuss each briefly but you can find more detail in the links given below.
I'm going to start with the worst here, pancreatic cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is the 11th most common cancer in the UK accounting for about 10,000 cases each year. The incidence has been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, more so in women than in men. It only accounts for about 5% of cancer-related deaths each year but here's the kicker...less than 1% of pancreatic patients will survive 10 years or more. The five-year survival rate? 3%. And finally only 20% of patients will survive their first year. That is a loss on average of around 8,000 lives a year just down to one cancer type.
So why is this cancer type so bad. There are a number of reasons, the first being your pancreas is pretty important for your survival. Your pancreas does two vital things, it produces enzymes which help you digest your food and it produces hormones to regulate your blood glucose levels. Hormones like insulin. The second reason pancreatic cancer is so hard to treat is its location. Your pancreas is embedded deep in your abdomen between your stomach and your spine. The third reason is your pancreas doesn't regenerate and it's very difficult to replace with a donor. And finally and possibly most importantly for cancer treatment, pancreatic cancer usually presents at a very late stage meaning very little can be done.
Again with a lot of cancers the symptoms are vague and can include:
Type of pancreatic cancer:
Diagnosis and treatment:
Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is mainly through examination of the pancreas using an ultrasound or CT scan accompanied by blood tests and a biopsy. The majority of patients are diagnosed at stage IV, which is why the survival rate is so low. The treatments for pancreatic cancer are the standard: surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Unfortunately lack of response to treatment and recurrence is high. There are many ongoing clinical trails to find new targeted therapies for pancreatic cancer.
Screening and prevention:
Currently there are no screening programmes for pancreatic cancer and early diagnostic tools like CA19-9 are unreliable as a proportion of pancreatic cancers don't release this marker.
This is a terrible disease with a shocking survival rate and it is only getting worse. Pancreatic cancer research is one of the most underfunded research areas today. But with more awareness hopefully charities like Pancreatic Cancer UK can raise more funds for vital research.
To keep with the theme of vastly underfunded research areas I will next talk about
You would expect through all the campaigns about quitting smoking etc. that lung cancer would be one of the most funded cancer research areas but it is sadly not.
Lung cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK accounting for about 46,000 new cases a year. But just like pancreatic cancer, the 10-year survival rate is only 5%. The sad thing is CRUK estimates about 89% of lung cancer cases could be prevented. I won't lie to you we all know the biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking. We've seen the ads and the photos on cigarette packets. The statistic here to remember is that while only 10% of smokers will get lung cancer a whopping 86% of lung cancer patients are smokers, former smokers or passive smokers.
Symptoms of Lung Cancer:
Types of lung cancer:
The "types" of lung cancer are grouped together because of the size of cell the cancer originated in but they are not all the same cancer.
Diagnosis and treatment:
Usually once you have presented with symptoms which indicate lung cancer a patient will receive a chest x-ray and/or bronchoscopy accompanied by a biopsy. It must be noted that treatment for the two cancer types are different, depending on where it is and the stage. But the standard treatments for lung cancer is standard: surgery (which could be as little as removing the tumour to as much as removing a lung), chemotherapy, radiotherapy, photodynamic therapy and ablation. There are targeted therapies available for advanced lung cancer patients which target pathways such as EGFR (erlotinib) or tyrosine kinases (genfitinib).
Screening and prevention:
While there is no national screening taking place for lung cancer the best way to prevent it is to quit smoking. Anti-smoking campaigns are one of the most successful awareness campaigns out there.
And the big question you've been burning to ask - why is lung cancer so underfunded? Sadly I have no answer for you. The funding process is a difficult and complex system which I know very little about. The good news is that CRUK at least have pledged to put more funding into these poorly researched cancers like Lung and Pancreatic.
And finally let's talk about Movember. Now November isn't the month for awareness on testicular cancer or prostate cancer so I won't be talking about these. However it has become a month where awareness and funds are raised for all men's cancers. And awareness to me is more important that a single penny. I have spoken on this before but just to hit it home once again, prevention is better than cure. Not all cancers can be prevented I'm afraid but if we can reduce the numbers of people being diagnosed we can reduce the numbers who lose their lives.
The fact the Movember has come about is particularly important. The most funded cancer research area to date is breast cancer. And it is thought that part of the reason for this is women. Women who had/have breast cancer or women who have lost a family member or friend to breast cancer. These women are the driving force behind every awareness campaign, behind new drugs being made available to patients and behind vastly successful national screening. To me it seems women are, interestingly, the major focus of cancer awareness campaigns because they are usually the driving force behind them. I'm not going to go into gender biases about how "women talk more about their problems than men" because if cancer screening has taught me anything its not true (take a look at bowel cancer screening statistics). But what I am saying is that men as a whole (sorry to put it like that) have less opportunities to avail of screening services and may not know what they are really supposed to be looking out for. Which is why Movember is so brilliant. It encourages men to get involved and to talk about male cancers. It puts male-specific cancers in focus while allowing men to actively participate by growing beards (super manly).
I like to highlight charities and companies that inspire me and to me show genius and innovative ways of raising cancer awareness and funds. And the underwear company OddBalls encompasses this completely. The company, started in 2014, designs and creates underwear (not just for men but for women as well). And with your new boxers you also receive a handy guide to checking yourself for testicular cancer. They have become so popular they now design underwear for rugby clubs including The Welsh International Team AND have set up their own charitable foundation.
If you want to know more or maybe by a pair for yourself, check out: www.myoddballs.com/
They also do socks, bobble hats, rugby jerseys and more!
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me.
For more information visit:
My name is Caitriona and I am a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK.