New campaign highlights little known but common cancers

An NHS Be Clear on Cancer campaign is being launched at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital this week (21 May). It aims to improve public awareness about the symptoms of the relatively unknown but increasingly common cancers of the gullet (oesophagus) and stomach. Together these two cancers affect nearly 700 people in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk each year. More than nine out of 10 people who get them are over 55.

Low awareness means people are not recognising the symptoms and telling their doctor soon enough. Official figures show cancer of the oesophagus, the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach, is now the fourth most common cause of cancer death in men (after lung, prostate and bowel) and the sixth most in women. In 2010 these two cancers caused 550 deaths across the Anglia region.

The campaign says to remember to see your doctor straight away if:
• Food ever feels like it’s sticking in your throat when you swallow, or
• You’ve had heartburn or indigestion on and off for 3 weeks or more

Dr Jane Scott is local GP whose face appears on the campaign advertising. She says: “People are often worried about bothering their doctor with what they think are ‘trivial’ problems, but if symptoms like these carry on you really need to speak to your GP.”

Paul Lesslie, 61, a keen golfer from Overstrand in Norfolk, had never heard of cancer of the oesophagus before his diagnosis in 2011. He says: “I was swallowing food but it wouldn’t go down into my stomach and I would encourage anyone who thinks they have symptoms like this to see their doctor. Don’t just think it will go away because the longer you leave it the worse it will get.”

Paul had chemotherapy and non invasive keyhole surgery (which enables a far quicker recovery than open surgery) at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and was home from hospital within five days of the operation, which is a record for the hospital. He joined his friends back on the golf course at Royal Cromer Golf Club just three weeks later.

The awareness campaign is a regional pilot led by Anglia Cancer Network for Be Clear on Cancer, the Department for Health and Cancer Research UK’s national initiative to improve early diagnosis of cancer.

Dr Rory Harvey, Medical Director for Anglia Cancer Network and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, says: “Most people have heard of breast or lung cancer but not cancer of the stomach or oesophagus which are now amongst the most common cancers. The Be Clear on Cancer message is the same; you are not wasting anyone’s time by getting your symptoms checked out and seeing your doctor without delay may save your life.”

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Monday 21st of May 2012 10:00:15 AM