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November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month and the oncology teams in Wards 8 East and North of Mater Private Hospital Brisbane have chosen this month to raise awareness and understanding of this disease plus funds to support cancer research.
Oncology Nurse Deb Harrison explains pancreatic cancer can be difficult to detect due to the location of the pancreas in the body and the fact the symptoms can be varied and subtle.
"The pancreas is located in the abdomen and is surrounded by other organs, including the spleen, liver and small intestine. It plays an important role in digestion as it produces enzymes that break down food while also regulating our blood sugar," Deb said.
"Symptoms of pancreatic cancer are vague and can be similar to other illnesses. Things to look out for are abdominal pain, sudden weight loss, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, loss of appetite, indigestion, mid back pain, change in stools, dark urine and new onset diabetes.
"These symptoms alone are concerning and should be investigated by your GP as there are other potential illnesses they could be however, all of them at once requires further analysis."
Deb explained the majority of pancreatic cancer cases is unknown, but research has demonstrated lifestyle factors can definitely impact the chances of getting the disease.
"An unhealthy lifestyle including being overweight, smoking, long standing diabetes and a family history are all known risk factors for pancreatic cancer, it is the eight most common cancer in Australia impacting men and women equally," Deb said.
"Sadly, pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of all major cancers and unfortunately these statistics have not changed significantly in over 40 year with nearly 4 000 men and women diagnosed in Australia each year and only 10 per cent are expected to survive longer than five years.”
Fortunately, Mater Researchers, in partnership with The University of Queensland, are currently working on the development of a cancer vaccine, which has shown promising signs in preclinical laboratory studies.
Developed with support from Worldwide Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, and Mater Foundation, this vaccine could potentially be used to treat a variety of blood cancers and malignancies.
Lead Researcher Associate Professor Kristen Radford deems this study to be a major breakthrough for cancer vaccinations.
“We are hoping this [vaccine] could be used to treat blood cancers, (myeloid leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, paediatric leukaemias) plus solid malignancies including breast, lung, renal, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers, and glioblastoma,” she said.
“The team have developed a new vaccine, comprised of human antibodies fused with tumour-specific protein, and are investigating its capacity to target human cells while activating the memory of the tumour cells.”
Associate Professor Radford is hopeful her team will be able to move on to human trials in the coming years.
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