This oesophageal cancer awareness month we really want to share why we at Tenovus Cancer Care have become particularly interested in this disease. We have recently lost a very cherished member of our choir to oesophageal cancer, and are aware that in Wales, it is an underserved cancer type.
Oesophageal cancer is one of a group of cancers referred to as “less survivable cancers”, which means that the survival rates are not as good as many other types of cancer. Despite this, less survivable cancer is a bit of a misnomer, as oesophageal cancer is in fact very survivable if diagnosed early, the problem is that it is often diagnosed at a late stage.
There are a couple of reasons why oesophageal cancer is often diagnosed late, one being that symptoms often don’t begin until the cancer has developed and possibly spread, and the other being that the location of the oesophagus in the body means that it can easily spread to other essential organs.
When thinking about oesophageal cancer it is really clear that focus has to be on diagnosing the disease as early as possible, and even preventing it all together. The good news is that oesophageal cancer is actually one of the more preventable types of cancer, and it is predicted that 59% of oesophageal cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes such as not smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight and avoiding excessive drinking. This would save 263 lives a year in Wales. However, making lifestyle changes to lower your risk of possibly developing a disease in the future is often more difficult than it seems.
Earlier diagnosis can mean a lot of different things, for oesophageal cancer it mostly means ensuring that people are aware of the symptoms which include problems swallowing, sickness, heartburn, indigestion and a hoarse voice, as well as vaguer symptoms such as fatigue and weight loss.
However, it is not just about increasing symptom awareness, people also need to feel able to discuss these symptoms with their GP at the earliest possible time, and ensure people with oesophageal cancer get their diagnosis and treatment quickly. Diagnosis for oesophageal cancer relies heavily on endoscopy and unfortunately in Wales at this time the demand for endoscopy services far outweighs capacity, resulting in long waiting times which in turn could lead to a hesitancy to refer patients. We want to help support endoscopy services in Wales get back on track and as such have used patient experiences and insight from members of our All-Wales Cancer Community to feed into the enquiry into endoscopy services in Wales.
We are active partners in the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce and have recently taken responsibility for leading the Wales specific subgroup of the taskforce, where we are focussing our input into less survivable cancers of the Upper GI such as oesophageal cancer to help raise awareness of the problems faced by patients in Wales today.
We hope that by shining a light on oesophageal cancer we can help reduce the rates in Wales, and ensure that patients get the best care and support possible.