Judi Adams never imagined that a sore back and the occasional stomachache could be signs of something much more serious: an eight-inch tumor.
Her vague symptoms were followed late last year by an “out of the blue” onset of nausea and loss of appetite.
Doctors told Mrs. Adams after a series of medical tests that there was a lump in her pancreas.
She went to the hospital to have a biopsy of the nodule and woke up after surgery to find she had pancreatic cancer.
Part of her pancreas and stomach had been removed, along with her spleen.
Ms Adams, 55, thought her back pain was caused by working much of her time in an office environment and experienced “a twinge” with exertion.
Cancer is often diagnosed late
Pancreatic cancer affects approximately 3,700 Australians each year.
It is the fourth most common cause of death from cancer due to a combination of factors.
It is often found after it has spread and cannot be removed.
There is also a lack of effective treatments for advanced disease.
Like many, Ms. Adams’ vague symptoms “came out of the blue.”
She said there was nothing to indicate she had a large tumor in her pancreas.
“A lot of the tests I had seemed to be obscured by the organs around the pancreas,” she said.
Patient inspired to help others
Ms Adams has long volunteered to raise awareness and raise money for breast cancer, including by organizing Pinktober – the four weeks of the year when monuments in Brisbane and Tasmania are lit up pink.
“I wanted to get my experience out there to help others and make sure people were aware of what pancreatic cancer symptoms might look like,” she said.
Study highlights early symptoms
Ms. Adams said she discovered that the medical research institute, QIMR Berghofer, was conducting a study on pancreatic cancer.
The Exploring pancreatic cancer pathways to diagnosisled by Rachel Neale, aims to identify the early signs and symptoms of cancer and understand which symptoms lead to diagnosis first.
The study involves completing a paper or online questionnaire, asking about parenting and lifestyle factors, as well as an assessment of how people have adapted to their pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
Participants will also be interviewed by phone or video conference to discuss symptoms and their path to diagnosis.
Professor Neale said the Pathways Study was still looking for 150 participants who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the past six months.
“A lot of people tell us about the long and difficult process of making the diagnosis,” she said.
Professor Neale said patients with pancreatic cancer would have access to better treatments and surgery if they were diagnosed earlier.
“Even if we can’t help people live longer, we can give them a little more time to adjust to their diagnosis and more opportunities to participate in clinical trials to find new treatments that can help people in the future. ” she said.
Reduce diagnostic burden
The Pathways Study cancer epidemiology and project collaborator, Bridie Thompson, said 40 people had already shared their early signs and symptoms.
She said the process of getting a diagnosis can be troubling for patients, and the study aimed to reduce that burden.
“We’re really interested in knowing the time from the initial onset of symptoms to seeking medical attention and receiving a definitive diagnosis,” she said.
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