An essential element to treating cancer successfully is an early diagnosis, as one of our members, Ali Stunt, discovered. Here she shares her experience of being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, aged 41, and how a timely referral saved her life.
The importance of a quick diagnosis
It was in the summer of 2007 that Ali Stunt, a scientist from Surrey, started to get agonising pain in her back between her shoulder blades. She went off food, had diarrhoea and lost a stone in just a few weeks.
‘I saw my GP several times and was told it was probably irritable bowel syndrome or indigestion. But when the pain shifted to below my ribcage, I saw a locum GP. She was concerned and insisted on a referral to a pancreatic cancer specialist. She suggested I use my private healthcare insurance, so two days later I saw a specialist.’
‘The speedy referral probably saved my life. A scan revealed a 5cm cancerous tumour in my pancreas. It was growing next to a major blood vessel. My specialist said it was just weeks away from being inoperable.’
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed too late, so the five year survival rate is only three per cent. ‘I was devastated. I thought I wouldn’t see my two sons grow up.’
Early surgery can increase survival rates tenfold
Thankfully, Ali’s quick referral meant that her cancer was operable, which greatly increases survival rates. If it’s performed in time, surgery increases survival rates to 30 per cent.
Ali had surgery to remove the tumour, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. When her treatment finished, she had scans every six months to check it hadn’t returned.
‘I’ve now been given the five year all-clear and don’t need any more check-ups or scans. It’s a huge relief and I’m very aware how lucky I am.’
As a result of her experience, Ali’s set up the charity, Pancreatic Cancer Action. She’s busy campaigning for better awareness of pancreatic cancer and the fact that early diagnosis and surgery can increase survival tenfold.