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Just under 10,000 people are diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas in the UK every year. Rates have been steadily rising over the last decade and researchers predict that this pattern is set to continue.

Pancreatic cancer is a serious condition that can be difficult to cure. Frustratingly, average survival rates in the UK haven’t improved over the last forty years. Early diagnosis and effective, timely management by a specialist team can offer the best chance of a cure.

The London Clinic is committed to providing the best cancer care for our patients. We have world-leading surgeons and oncologists working with highly-trained, multidisciplinary teams to provide the latest treatments, sensitive support and a comfortable, stress-free environment in which to recover.

What is pancreatic cancer?

The pancreas is a large gland which lies behind the stomach in the upper part of the abdomen. It plays a vital role in digesting food and produces hormones, including insulin, which control the levels of sugar in the blood.

Cancer develops when cells in the pancreas start to divide and grow in an abnormal and uncontrolled way, forming a tumour. They can develop in the head, the body or tail of the pancreas, with different kinds of cancer arising from different cells.

The most common type of pancreatic cancer develops from the cells lining the tubes that carry digestive fluids to the intestine. It’s called a ductal adenocarcinoma and accounts for four out of five cases of pancreatic cancer. Only one in twenty cancers originate in the cells that make hormones, these are known as neuroendocrine tumours. The cancers may grow and spread at different rates and require different treatment strategies.

Who is at risk of pancreatic cancer?

The risk of getting cancer is linked to age, genetic background and lifestyle. Anyone could potentially develop pancreatic cancer, but some people are more at risk:

Age: Pancreatic cancer is rare in people under forty, most people are between 50 and 80 when they are diagnosed.

Long-standing inflammation: A history of chronic pancreatitis increases the risk of developing cancer.

Family history: Certain faulty genes increase the risk of pancreatic cancer; these can be passed down in families, accounting for around one in ten cases.

Chronic health problems: Including diabetes, stomach ulcers and helicobacter pylori infection.

Obesity: Research shows that being overweight increases the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Smoking: There is a strong link to tobacco, with a third of cancers associated with the use of cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco.

If you are worried about your family history or have chronic pancreatitis, your doctor may suggest regular screening for pancreatic cancer. The London Clinic also offers screening tests for a fixed price.

Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer

In the early stages, pancreatic cancer doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, which is why it is often diagnosed when more advanced. The first noticeable symptoms of pancreatic cancer can include:

  • Tummy pain: This is usually in the upper abdomen, spreading through to the back. It is often worse after meals or when lying flat. 
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Jaundice: The cancer may cause a yellow discolouration of the skin and the whites of the eyes. When jaundiced, the skin may be itchy, the urine can be darker and your faeces may become pale in colour.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Change in your usual bowel habit, with the onset of diarrhoea or constipation.
  • Sometimes the damage to the pancreas can affect its ability to produce insulin, this can lead to diabetes developing.

These symptoms can be triggered by a number of conditions, so there is no need to panic. However, you should see your GP if you are unwell or have any concerns.

Why choose The London Clinic?

The London Clinic is dedicated to providing the best, personalised healthcare, with over 600 world-renowned consultants available to offer informed health advice and treatment.

Spanning Harley Street and Devonshire Place, The London Clinic is situated in the heart of London’s internationally-known medical district. This central location, together with state-of-the art technologies and facilities that are not widely available in other hospitals, makes The London Clinic the hospital of choice for around 120,000 patients every year.

Offering affordable and competitive self-pay packages and expert support from Clinical Nurse Specialists and our specialised multidisciplinary team, 98% of our patients said they would recommend The London Clinic to their friends and families

Pancreatic cancer specialists at The London Clinic

The London Clinic’s priority is to provide our patients with support, comfort and expert cancer care.

We have a team of experienced consultant surgeons, specialist nurses and oncologists to treat your pancreatic cancer, as well as explaining the side-effects of therapies and taking time to address any worries you may have.

Having treatment for cancer is stressful. Our specialists work with multi-disciplinary teams to maintain your physical health and your emotional wellbeing. They are dedicated to supporting you and your family, every step of the way. Your treatment plan is discussed at a multidisciplinary team meeting. The London Clinic also provides complementary therapy, counselling and an extensive physiotherapy service.

Investigations and tests at The London Clinic

The London Clinic offers a range of tests to detect pancreatic cancer in an efficient and comfortable environment. High-tech imaging and a purpose-built endoscopy suite can help your specialist diagnose and stage your cancer, so that you are offered the best treatment for your individual needs.

Following consultation and assessment in the out-patient clinic, your consultant will arrange tests to discover more about your condition. These can include:

  • Ultrasound scan: This is often the first line of investigation for someone with worrying symptoms.
  • MRI scan: The London Clinic has two MRI scanners offering a comprehensive range of MRI investigations, to provide more detailed images of the pancreas and surrounding area.
  • PET-CT scan: These scans are used to look for disease, inflammation or infection in your body. They can identify areas of active cancer within the pancreas, the lymph nodes and in the rest of the body.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: An internal ultrasound, inserted with the use of an endoscope can be used to get better views of the area affected.
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP):  Expert physicians at The London Clinic use ERCP to diagnose pancreatic cancer, or to treat any blockages that the cancer has caused, prior to surgery. A thin, flexible tube is inserted through the mouth, down to the small intestine. There is a small camera on the end of the device, which relays high-quality images to a computer screen. A special dye is injected into your bile and pancreatic ducts. This shows up clearly on X-ray, so that any tumours are highlighted.
  • Laparoscopy: Keyhole surgery can be a useful way of examining the inside of the abdomen. A laparoscope, which is a device containing a microscope attached to a camera, is inserted into the abdomen. It relays live images to a screen so that the size and location of the tumour can be assessed and biopsies can be taken for analysis.

Treatments for pancreatic cancer at The London Clinic

The right choice of treatment for your pancreatic cancer depends on the size and stage of the tumour, whether the cancer has spread, and your age and general health. Your consultant may order some tests to gather more information. They will then discuss the options with you and develop a customised programme, tailored to your individual needs.

Surgery: If the cancer has been caught at an early stage and the tumour is localised, surgery to remove part or all of the pancreas can be performed. The surgery is long and complex, so it will only be considered if your surgeon is confident you are well enough to cope with the operation. Different operations may be performed, depending on the position of the cancer. Adjacent structures like the bile duct, gallbladder, spleen, lymph glands and parts of the stomach and small bowel may also need to be removed.

Radiotherapy: High-energy X-ray radiation can be directed at the pancreas to destroy cancer cells. This can provide relief of symptoms and reduce the risk of recurrence after surgery.

The London Clinic has a dedicated radiotherapy suite with the latest image-guided, volumetric arc and intensity-modulated radiotherapy to increase the accuracy of treatment and reduce complications. We also offer respiratory gated radiotherapy and the CyberKnife, to allow more precise targeting of the tumour.

Chemotherapy: Different combinations of chemotherapy can be given by mouth or intravenous injection. These prevent the cancer cells dividing and proliferating, helping to shrink the tumour and reduce the risk of spread. The London Clinic offers outpatient chemotherapy in a comfortable, private and discreet location.

Ongoing medical care: Surgery to remove part of the pancreas can affect your ability to digest food and control the level of sugar in your blood. The London Clinic’s multi-disciplinary team will help you adapt to this and manage your diet. You may need to take regular enzyme supplements and inject insulin. A dietician and clinical nurse specialist will be there to offer guidance with nutrition and medication.

Treatment cost

The London Clinic offers affordable, competitive self-pay packages for certain treatments.

Please call +44 (0)20 3613 7502 to speak to our helpful team to find out more and to book an appointment.

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