On Thursday 22 February around 3pm there will be a Parliamentary backbench debate about the Government's cancer strategy. Which is very timely as it comes in Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month, and two days after the anniversary of the death of broadcaster Steve Hewlett who died of oesophageal cancer.
You can help by emailing or writing to your MP drawing their attention to the debate and asking for their support for measures to improve early diagnosis for oesophageal cancer.
You can find out who your MP is here
Email them, or write to them at the House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA
Tell them your person story, and consider adding the following information (copy and pasting as you deem fit):
Oesophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK.
70% of oesophageal cancer is adenocarcinoma, a disease in which the UK is reported as having the highest incidence in the world. Other parts of the world have high incidence of oesophageal cancer, but this tends to be squamous cell cancer which is different in its causes.
Over half the cancer deaths in the UK come from the less survivable cancers like oesophageal, stomach, pancreatic, liver, brain and lung cancers, where often there has been little sign of much progress over the last few decades, in contrast to, say breast cancer, where survival rates are now very good indeed. The 5 year survival rate for all oesophageal cancer is only about 15% but it is dramatically better when diagnosed in its early stages.
If the Government's strategy on cancer is to reduce cancer deaths, there must be more impact made on early diagnosis of cancers such as oesophageal cancer, which accounts for 7,600 deaths per year.
For oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC), there are excellent opportunities to make an impact on the basis of knowledge and expertise that we have today; it is not dependent on future research. OAC is heavily associated with Barrett's Oesophagus, which is in turn caused by persistent reflux which affects the lining of the oesophagus that cannot cope with stomach acid like a stomach lining can. It is common sense to concentrate on a treatable precursor condition with an easily understood symptom ie persistent heartburn, something that is not a feature for many other cancers at all.
So the Government can target those with persistent heartburn, encourage them to see their GP, who will refer appropriate cases of unresolved heartburn for an endoscopy. Barrett's Oesophagus can be treated by radio frequency ablation, and this can prevent the cancer from developing, but not all treatment centres yet have this equipment.
There should also be more graphic warnings on over-the-counter heartburn medication like Gaviscon and Nexium to supplement the advice about seeing a GP if symptoms persist.
There should also be easier methods of obtaining Barrett's Oesophagus patient consent for their data to be included in research databases. Due to the way that our laws and procedures work, cancer patients are treated as if they automatically consent for their details to be used for research unless they object; for Barrett's Oesophagus, a precursor condition, the reverse is true. Rationalising patient consent would make research into this disease easier.