NICE has published guidance aiming to improve care for people with pancreatic cancer by ensuring faster, more accurate diagnosis and staging.

Surgery to remove the cancer is the only potential cure. However, this is not possible if, as in the large majority of cases, cancer has already spread at the time of diagnosis. Therefore it is vital that the stage of the disease is accurately determined, so patients are not subjected to surgery that will not benefit them.

This will limit the damaging side effects for patients and ensure those with inoperable cancer can get earlier access to chemotherapy.

NICE recommends the use of the PET-CT scan and estimates that using this scan in the diagnosis and staging of pancreatic cancer will result in a 20% reduction in operations, meaning theatre time is freed up for other patients.

This is a different type of computed tomography (CT) scan. It ensures the extent of the cancer is found promptly and accurately, more so than existing scans, such as MRIs and standard CT.

Overall, improving the staging process will result in the correct management of the disease, reducing the impact on patients and the NHS of inappropriate, expensive surgery and giving them earlier access to chemotherapy.

Professor Mark Baker, director of the centre for guidelines at NICE, said: The PET-CT scan could have a significant impact on the treatment of patients with pancreatic cancer. It will mean that the staging process is more effective so that patients stand a better chance of getting the right treatment, at the right time”

Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the UK. There are more than 9,500 new cases diagnosed each year1. Once diagnosed, life expectancy is on average 4-6 months.

Professor Chris Harrison, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, added: “It is important that patients with pancreatic cancer have an accurate assessment of whether the cancer has spread before undergoing major surgery. This guidance shows how modern diagnostic techniques can bring about more personalised cancer care, tailoring the treatment to the needs of the patient.”

This guidance also recommends surveillance for people who have 2 or more close relatives, such as siblings, children or parents with pancreatic cancer or Lynch syndrome due to their inherited higher risk of the disease.

NICE recommends increased support for the psychological impact that the cancer can have on patients, including anxiety and depression.