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Tonight, pancreatic cancer patients remembered in touching ceremony

Louis Baldachino. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

Tonight the Moorish Castle will shine purple in a touching ceremony for loved ones who have been diagnosed with the illness organised by Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Gibraltar.

The charity’s founder Louis Baldachino has survived pancreatic cancer, having lived seven years since he was diagnosed, and tonight he will be remembering all those who have died.

The survival rate of pancreatic cancer, although increasing, is the lowest of any of the 22 common cancers.

When Mr Baldachino was diagnosed in 2015, the five-year survival rate was 5%, though in the years since it has climbed to around 8% with medical advances.

His mission now is to raise awareness in a bid for people to spot the signs earlier and for doctors to offer blood tests.

Early diagnosis means a higher chance of survival, but Mr Baldachino said, in the past few year’s patients have been diagnosed at stage three or four locally, with the odds for survival very low.

Mr Baldachino, who despite diagnosed with stage four advanced, has survived due to multiple major surgeries, various chemotherapy treatments and a clinical trial in Pamplona. 

Tonight's event will be a poignant reminder of the need for early diagnosis as Mr Baldachino marks the event alongside loved ones in remembering those who have died.

"Families who have lost their loved ones in the past two years will be attending the event," Mr Baldachino said.

He added it is important for the families to meet others and share experiences.

"For the past few years, as far as the charity knows, most [pancreatic cancer patients] are no longer with us," Mr Baldachino said.

This is the first time the event has been since the Covid-19 pandemic, and will include speeches at Grand Battery.

He said the low survival rate is alarming, and that with pancreatic cancer patients die shortly after being diagnosed.

"The problem is the symptoms are so vague, they are like pain in the back, indigestion, stool habits change, jaundice is a bit more alarming," he said.

Other symptoms include blood clots and weight-loss.

"These are symptoms that you don't really relate to cancer. It's just day to day problems that you might have."

The issue is, with symptoms like back pain and indigestion, patients don't attend the doctors.

The second issue is the GP may not advise a blood test, and instead will put the symptoms down as lesser illnesses.

The week-long awareness week, which includes wear purple day on Thursday, aims to target this issue facing pancreatic patients.

Mr Baldachino will be working with the GHA and in January the charity will bring Ali Stunt, CEO, and Joe Kirwin, Health Policy Manager, of Pancreatic Cancer Action UK.

Both charity workers will be in Gibraltar to deliver talks on diagnosis.

Mr Baldachino said this year the charity is flagging diabetes as a symptom of pancreatic cancer.

He said 30% of those with Type 2 diabetes develop into pancreatic cancer at a later stage in life.

"Maybe it develops when you are 90, it doesn't mean that you are going to develop it within the next three or four years," he said.

"Some do, some after two or three years they go pancreatic."

Mr Baldachino explained how glucose is controlled by the pancreas.

"If the pancreas have a problem, it at first can be diabetes or it could be the cancer is there and the tumour will grow later. You won't know until two or three years later."

Mr Baldachino added there is no screening for pancreatic cancer, and instead a blood test, and encourages that test should be carried out on the onset of any vague symptoms.

He said roughly the GHA diagnoses 10 people a year with pancreatic cancer, and his aim is to save a life through awareness.

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