By Jean Christou
DESPITE scoring high in diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer, Cyprus fails to meet best practices in prevention, the first-ever assessment and comparison of pancreatic cancer care in Europe revealed yesterday.
The European Pancreatic Cancer Index (EPCI) of 30 countries was compiled by the Health Consumer Powerhouse (HCP) based in Sweden. It revealed that most European countries do not give due attention to the ‘silent killer’, the survival rate for which is rarely beyond a year after diagnosis, and which is the third biggest cause of death from all cancers each year, having overtaken stomach cancer.
Although pancreatic cancer is responsible for almost the same number deaths as breast cancer each year – around 100,000 across Europe – many healthcare systems do not give it due regard.
The report said Cyprus was in this category “as it continues not to meet expectations regarding a targeted health system that saves lives,” said the report.
“Cyprus must make more of an effort to care for patients with pancreatic cancer,” says Dr Arne Bjornberg, of the HCP. “Primarily it is a matter of collecting and releasing of the data associated with the treatment. If there is no information on the number of patients who survived pancreatic cancer, it is extremely difficult to design a health-care system that saves lives. Without information, it is impossible to know whether the diagnosis and treatment components that seem to work quite satisfactorily in Cyprus, actually contribute to overall health care.”
In terms of sufferers, the index showed that in Cyprus the rate of pancreatic cancer is low compared to every other country on the list bar Bosnia Herzegovina with 7 cases per 100,000 to the latter’s 5 per 100,000. The Czech Republic topped the list at 14 cases per 100,000 while the EU average was 9 per 100,000. Most countries clocked in around the average but those just under the Czech Republic with rates higher than the average included Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, Slovenia, Denmark, Austria, Germany and Malta.
“Perhaps the most remarkable feature is the low reported pancreatic cancer incidences in high-smoking rate countries such as Greece, Bulgaria and Cyprus,” said the report. “If the hypothesis of tobacco smoking being a main risk factor is considered true, the figure more or less proves that there are serious weaknesses in the reported incidences”.
It said pancreatic cancer has a justified reputation as the ‘silent killer’as it’s generally detected too late, which makes it almost impossible to treat.
Physicians need better education for the early detection of the disease, it added. And unlike other cancers, numbers for the disease continue to grow with most patients dying within the first year of diagnosis.
It is the only major cancer where survival rates are not improving, which the report says seems to have created a sense of hopelessness, even among medical professionals. The low survival rates – largely due to late diagnosis– have also de-motivated registry holders from monitoring the progress of pancreatic cancer care.
Dr Anne-Marie Yazbeck, the EPCI project leader at HCP expects the outcome of the first-ever index to act as a wake-up call for Europe’s health policymakers. “We have already found a worrying lack of information about many of the essential components of care for pancreatic cancer patients,” she said.
“What is emerging from this work is that even healthcare systems and the medical profession have gaps in their knowledge about this form of cancer. This poses the key question: How do such knowledge gaps affect treatment and chances of survival?”