Half of British people with pancreatic cancer not prescribed ‘essential’ tablets

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 03: An NHS sign sits on the outside of Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital on January 3, 2018 in London, England. Hospitals in the UK have been advised to postpone all non-urgent operations until the end of January as the NHS struggles to cope with the surge in patients over the winter period. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Half of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer are not being prescribed “essential” tablets on the NHS, leaving them at risk of starvation, a charity has warned.

Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT) tablets are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for those with pancreatic cancer to help them tolerate treatment better and manage severe symptoms of the disease such as pain, diarrhoea, and weight loss.

New research on 1,350 pancreatic cancer patients from the University of Birmingham has found that without the tablet, patients cannot digest food because the cancer stops the pancreas producing enzymes needed to digest and absorb nutrients.

Marie Morris, 44, who lost her mother to the disease in April 2020, said by the end her mother was “skeletal”.

She added: “It’s hard to see somebody who’s confined to a bed and who can’t eat anything without vomiting.

“There was nothing left, really, maybe it (PERT) would have made a difference to the length of her life – but perhaps more importantly, also to the quality of her life.”

Pancreatic Cancer UK has launched a Transform Lives: Prescribe campaign to urge the NHS to raise awareness of these tablets and encourage prescriptions at the point of diagnosis.

It wants the NHS to implement targets to ensure more people with this type of cancer are prescribed PERT tablets regularly, arguing they improve quality of life and enable people to better tolerate life-extending treatments.

The only potential cure for pancreatic cancer is surgery, but 80% of people are diagnosed too late to have the operation.

Of the 10,000 people in the UK with pancreatic cancer, the majority are given a terminal diagnosis.

Diana Jupp, chief executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said: “Nobody should have to watch someone they love waste away from pancreatic cancer when proven, inexpensive medication is available to stop that from happening.