Pancreatic cancer: tackling the threat of a silent killer

Greater awareness of the causes and earlier diagnosis can provide hope for pancreatic cancer patients, writes Philippe de Backer.

By Philippe De Backer

03 Nov 2015

Pancreatic cancer is a silent killer. There are rarely specific indications that enable early detection and the non-specific nature of the symptoms does not lead to an early association with pancreatic cancer. 

Late diagnosis means there are almost no opportunities for treatment; pancreatic cancer survival rates in Europe are only five per cent. By 2020, pancreatic cancer will become the second most common cause of cancer deaths.

Along with my colleagues Françoise Grossetête, Phillipe Juvin, Daciana Sârbu, I have championed tackling this undesirable trend.


In November 2014, the European Multi-Stakeholder Pancreatic Cancer Platform organised its first meeting.

This call for action was designed to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer, promote the sharing of registry data and information on pancreatic cancer patients throughout the EU, and encourage research into possibilities for earlier diagnosis.

Current research reveals that 90 to 95 per cent of the incidences of the disease are attributable to known risk factors including tobacco use and diet-related issues such as weight, red meat and low fruit and vegetable intake.

Raising awareness of these risk factors and the precautions we can take could become the short-term focus for tackling the disease. 

However, healthcare professionals also need to be informed about the importance of early diagnosis and of the recent advances in research.

The second meeting of the Pancreatic Cancer Platform in June set a further goal of creating a sustainable strategy for addressing the challenges of pancreatic cancer. Providing swift access to programmes such as the Innovative Medicine Initiative and Horizon 2020 should accelerate research towards new diagnosis methods and treatment.

Europe must provide the legislative framework that can help market new and less costly methods for early diagnosis and treatment.

At the launch of our platform last year, we pointed out that pancreatic cancer is one of the few cancers that fails to attract political support. I think we have changed this, and put the need to raise awareness of this silent killer on the political agenda.

Pancreatic cancer does not stop at national borders; patients from across Europe face similar problems. 

These challenges can often be addressed, or at least be influenced, by decisions taken at EU level. We have already taken some small steps, but much remains to be done.


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