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Thousands of pancreatic cancer patients die early ‘because their disease MISSES on scans’

Thousands of pancreatic cancer patients die early ‘because their disease MISSES on scans’

  • Researchers examined 600 scans of people with pancreatic cancer
  • Nearly one in 12 were categorized as pancreatic cancer cases after imaging
  • dr. Nosheen Umar, lead author of the study, said the mistakes cost lives

Thousands of patients die early because pancreatic cancer is missed on scans, a damning study has warned.

More than a third of pancreatic cancer cases (36 percent) may have been preventable if picked up earlier, researchers found.

But the UK study found that many patients were denied potentially curative surgery because signs after scans were not picked up.

Researchers examined 600 scans of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at two NHS trusts in England between 2019 and 2021.

More than a third of pancreatic cancer cases (36 percent) may have been preventable if picked up earlier, researchers found.

They found that nearly one in 12 were categorized as cases of pancreatic cancer (PIPC) after imaging — when a patient undergoes an MRI or CT scan that doesn’t pick up cancer before being diagnosed later.

Nearly half (48 percent) of the PIPC patients studied had signs of cancer that had been missed when the scans were reviewed by a specialist hepatobiliary radiologist.

More than a quarter (28 percent) of symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer, such as dilated bile or pancreatic ducts, were not recognized and investigated further.

dr. Nosheen Umar, the study’s lead author, from the University of Birmingham, said the oversight cost lives.

“There is often only a very short period of time for curative surgery in pancreatic cancer, which means it is vital that patients are diagnosed with the disease as early as possible to give them the best chance of survival,” he said.

The study found that evidence of pancreatic cancer was initially missed in more than a third of pancreatic cancer patients after imaging, which is a huge opportunity.

“We hope this study will raise awareness of the problem of pancreatic cancer after imaging and common reasons why pancreatic cancer may be missed in the first place.”

“This will help standardize future studies on this issue and guide quality improvement efforts so that we can increase the chances of early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, improve patient survival and ultimately save lives.”

Pancreatic cancer kills about 9,600 people in the UK each year, with about 10,500 newly diagnosed.

The disease kills about 50,000 people in the US every year, with about 62,000 people diagnosed with it.

As one of the most difficult cancers to recognize and treat, only a quarter survive more than a year after diagnosis.

The review, presented by United European Gastroenterology (UEG), found that 48 patients had their cancer not picked up during their initial scan, but were diagnosed between three and 18 months later.

Experts said more needs to be done to detect earlier-stage tumors before the cancer has spread.

Chris Macdonald, head of research at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: ‘Pancreatic cancer is difficult to diagnose, but it is crucial to detect this devastating disease at an earlier stage, where treatment appears to be most effective.

“It is worrying to see the results of this study, which show that 36 percent of pancreatic cancer tumors in the study group could have been diagnosed earlier.

“We know that because of the location of cancer, imaging pancreatic cancer, especially in the earliest stages when it’s small, is a big challenge.

‘This study clearly illustrates that challenge and highlights the need for improvements in imaging techniques.

“It also shows that radiologists need more tools and support to ensure that we increase the chances of identifying tumors at the earliest possible stage.”

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, and about 95 percent of people who get it die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 10,000 people are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the UK each year, in addition to around 55,000 in the US.


It is caused by the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.


Most cases (90 percent) are in people over the age of 55.

About half of all new cases occur in people 75 years of age or older.

One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.

Other possible causes include age, smoking and other health problems, including diabetes.


There is no screening method for pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer usually shows no symptoms in the early stages, when it would be more manageable.

Sufferers tend to develop the tell-tale signs—jaundice and abdominal pain—around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.


The only effective treatment is to remove the pancreas.

This proves largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs.

In those cases, palliative care is advised to relieve their end-of-life pain.


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