Patients should be offered early scans to improve the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and to avoid unnecessary surgery, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.
Charities reacted positively to the new guidance from NICE, describing it as “exciting” and suggesting it would “transform care for people with pancreatic cancer”.
“This guidance shows how modern diagnostic techniques can bring about more personalised cancer care”
Specifically, NICE has recommended the use of the PET-CT (PET-CT stands for fluorodeoxyglucose-positron emission tomography/CT) scanning in its new guidance.
NICE said it wanted to improve care for people with pancreatic cancer by ensuring faster, more accurate diagnosis and staging.
It noted that surgery to remove the tumour was the only potential cure, but this was not possible if, as in the large majority of cases, the cancer has already spread at the time of diagnosis.
Therefore, it was vital that the stage of the disease was accurately determined, so patients were not subjected to surgery that would not benefit them, said NICE.
As a result, this would limit the damaging side effects for patients and ensure those with inoperable cancer could get earlier access to chemotherapy, noted the institute.
“Patients stand a better chance of getting the right treatment, at the right time”
NICE estimates that using the PET-CT 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.
It is a different type of computed tomography (CT) scan that ensures the extent of the cancer is found promptly and accurately, more so than existing scans, such as MRIs and standard CT.
NICE said improving the staging process would result in the correct management of the disease, reducing inappropriate, expensive surgery and giving patients earlier access to chemotherapy.
Pancreatic cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in the UK. There are more than 9,500 new cases diagnosed each year. Once diagnosed, life expectancy is on average four to six months.
Meanwhile, NICE also recommended surveillance for those with two or more close relatives with pancreatic cancer or Lynch syndrome due to their inherited higher risk of the disease.
In addition, the institute called for increased support for the psychological impact that the cancer can have on patients, including anxiety and depression.
“Today’s incredibly exciting news is set to transform care for people with pancreatic cancer”
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,” he said.
Professor Chris Harrison, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, added: “This guidance shows how modern diagnostic techniques can bring about more personalised cancer care, tailoring
Anna Jewell, director of operations at Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Today’s incredibly exciting news is set to transform care for people with pancreatic cancer.
“Progress of this kind cannot come soon enough for people with a disease which currently has unacceptable variations in care and support across the UK,” she said.
“Making the PET-CT scan available must now be made a top priority,” she said. “When that happens, we should see a real improvement in the quality of life of people with pancreatic cancer.
“In the long term, we also hope this will bring about progress in survival of the disease,” she added.