In four decades, the long-term survival rate of pancreatic cancer has not improved.

With the highest mortality rate of all major cancers, 94 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within five years of diagnosis. Additionally, 74 percent of patients die within the first year, according to Hirshberg Foundation For Pancreatic Cancer Research. These numbers are only a fraction lower than the statistics in the early 1970s.

Cancer Research UK is taking strides toward improving research, with a plan to more than double its $8 million annual research spending on pancreas cancer within five years. One of the largest setbacks of the cancer is that most cases go undetected until it’s too late for surgery. There are no detection tools to diagnose the disease in its early stages when surgical removal of the tumor is still possible. Once detected, treatment options for pancreatic cancer are limited. Surgical removal of the tumor is possible in less than 20 percent of patients diagnosed.

Professor Andrew Biankin is a scientist contributing to pancreatic cancer research at Cancer Research UK’s Beatson Institute. In a press release, he said:

(...) We’ve been waiting too long for new drugs to treat the disease and there are very few options available for people with advanced forms of the disease. It’s a situation that simply has to change and we can only do that by funding more high quality research and trials, to get treatments out of the lab and into patients as soon as possible.

Professor Biankin is leading a team of researchers studying the pattern of faults in tumor samples of 400 pancreatic cancer patients. They’re also trying to identify molecules that could be used as early warning signs. Signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer often don’t occur until the disease is advanced. Some of these symptoms may include jaundice, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression, and blood clots.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:

(...) Overall, more than half of all cancer patients now survive at least a decade, which is testament to the power of research to transform people’s lives. But disappointingly, we are nowhere near that level with pancreas cancer, and we won’t stop until we can bring those kinds of results to all patients, regardless of their cancer type.