Patients suffering from the “silent killer” of pancreatic cancer are treated like tennis balls as they are passed between their GP and doctors, MPs were told yesterday.

No progress has been made in boosting the chances of survival in the last 40 years, and politicians should consider making it easier for GPs to send patients for CT scans to help diagnose cancer, Labour’s Nic Dakin added.

The Scunthorpe MP told a Westminster Hall debate the number of deaths from pancreatic cancer had been increasing as deaths from other cancers declined.

He added around 1 per cent of research funding - £5.2m - was spent on pancreatic cancer despite it having the worst survival rate and being the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in the UK.

Mr Dakin said: “Often termed the silent killer, many of pancreatic cancer’s symptoms mirror other less critical illnesses. Sometimes GPs may not recognise these early enough, looking first at other possible causes resulting in lost time before diagnosis.

“By this time, in many cases, the prognosis is terminal.”

He later told MPs: “Pancreatic cancer patients are not transferred quickly enough from primary to secondary care when time is of the essence if better outcomes are to be achieved.

“Most European countries do not have the same GP gateway as the UK. Patients are able to see a specialist more quickly and clinical outcomes are better.”

Mr Dakin described how a consultant surgeon and surgical oncologist explained a patient could face delays as he is sent by his GP to different specialists as they attempt to assess what is causing the problems.

He continued: “To get round this investigative ping pong it’s worth seriously considering whether to allow GPs direct, easier access to a CT scan, which would be much more likely to rule cancer in or out at an earlier stage than other investigative measures.”

Mr Dakin added: “Another 40 years can’t pass by without change. We need to set our stall out to make the same progress we’ve made for prostate, breast and bowel cancer in the last 40 years for pancreatic cancer in the next 40 years.

“Nothing less is satisfactory. It is, as our parliamentary inquiry says, time to change the story.”

The debate was moved by Mr Dakin and Conservative MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood Eric Ollerenshaw, whose partner Michael Donoghue died of pancreatic cancer. It came after 106,399 people signed an online petition calling for action.

Conservative John Baron, for Basildon and Billericay, said: “It is shameful in this country that still something like one in four cancers are first diagnosed as late as A&E - that cannot be right.

“And when it comes to pancreatic cancer … the figures are much worse. It doubles.”