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Cancer symptoms: The ‘intermittent’ warning sign that may occur at night – BMJ finding

Olivia Williams discusses ‘bizarre’ symptom of pancreatic cancer

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Reports in September flagged it could take until 2033 to clear the cancer treatment backlog, which could have potentially fatal repercussions for patients in the coming years. Early detection is key to survival, and raising awareness of the signs could improve the odds of curative treatment. In one BMJ Open paper, 40 cancer patients gave their accounts of the earliest signs they noticed – years before a formal diagnosis was made.

Pancreatic cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow uncontrolled in the pancreas, mostly in the part responsible for producing digestive fluids.

Some tumours can form in the section of the pancreas that manages insulin production and blood sugar regulation.

The disease is often picked up in the later stages when curative treatment is less successful.

But according to the BMJ study, this could be avoided.

The findings of the analysis were gathered from 40 people affected by pancreatic cancer, all of whom were interviewed.

READ MORE: Pancreatic cancer symptoms: Three digestive issues which could be signs

To conduct the analysis, participants aged between 35 and 84-years-old volunteered to provide information during a series of interviews.

During the interviews, they were asked to explain at which point they suspected something was wrong.

The results revealed that the approximate time from recognising a symptom to having a formal diagnosis ranged from less than a month to several years in some cases.

In the paper, the team cited the case of one interviewee named Paddy, who recognised that his repeated bouts of severe abdominal pain followed a pattern.

“But because they always occurred at night he did not see a doctor until the pain had disappeared,” wrote the researchers.

The participant explained his symptoms typically began kicking in around 7 o’clock in the evening and followed a particular course till about 2 or 3 o’clock that morning.

“They were absolutely the same each time,” noted the participant.

The pain was fleeting, which meant Paddy would longer experience them by the time he’d gone to see a doctor the next morning, or a few days later.

The researchers wrote: “Our study, the largest reported collection of qualitative interviews with people with pancreatic cancer – reports for the first time that symptoms of an intermittent nature may precede a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“Patients (and potentially their doctor as well) may be falsely reassured by symptoms that come and go.

“Pancreatic cancer might be identified at a stage where curative treatment is more likely if there was greater awareness that intermittent gastrointestinal symptoms have a serious cause, and if patients with intermittent pancreatitis-like symptoms were investigated more readily.”

According to Doctor Anton Bilchik, chief of medicine at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica: “Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer and the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.”

Figures in the UK also support claims relating to the deadly nature of pancreatic cancer, with figures showing it’s the 6th most common cause of cancer death in the UK.

There are around 9,400 deaths from the disease in the UK every year, which can be broken down to 26 per day.

The majority of deaths are concentrated in deprived areas of England.

But researchers hope greater awareness of symptoms will encourage uptake of NHS screening services.

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  • Posted on November 24, 2021