Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month 2023

1st February 2023

February is Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month. Oesophageal cancer is the 8th most common cancer worldwide. A UK-wide survey carried out by the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT) found that the awareness of symptoms of these cancers is dangerously low. Only 2% of people surveyed could correctly identify all symptoms of oesophageal cancer.

Why is awareness of oesophageal cancer symptoms so important?

NHS data showed that the proportion of oesophageal cancer cases diagnosed in an emergency setting like A&E was far higher than for more survivable cancers. Over 20% of oesophageal cancer cases were diagnosed at emergency, while just 2.7% of breast and 7.8% of prostate cancer cases were.

The earlier oesophageal cancer is diagnosed, the better treatment options patients have.

What are the symptoms for oesophageal cancer?

If you experience any of the below symptoms, you should see your GP to discuss further:

  • animation of the stomach looking up at the information, shocked and intrigued. Difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent indigestion or heartburn
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach, chest or back pain
  • A persistent cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unexpected weight loss

Jennie's oesophageal cancer story

Jennie’s story

Jennie (left) with sister Sue and friend Annabelle (right)

When Jennie first started experiencing persistent indigestion, she rang her GP to arrange an appointment.

“My GP is fantastic, but she looked at me, saw a fit, active, slim non-smoker and didn’t immediately recognise the symptoms. I didn’t fit the usual profile.” Jennie’s GP prescribed her a month supply of PPIs (proton pump inhibitors, reducing stomach acid production). However, Jennie’s symptoms continued. After she struggled to swallow her Christmas dinner, she knew she had to ask for a gastroscopy.

Jennie’s oesophageal cancer diagnosis was still a shock, but her persistence about her symptoms meant she was diagnosed at an early stage.

“Almost a decade on from having oesophageal cancer, I’m still here. I hope this helps to give other people and their families some hope” – Jennie. 

Rachael's oesophageal cancer story

Rachael’s Story

“In 2021 out of nowhere I started experiencing acid reflux. Even the simplest foods, like porridge or mashed potatoes would be an issue to digest and I wasn’t able to tolerate them. Within weeks, I couldn’t even swallow water.”

When Rachael could no longer swallow water she knew she had to go to A&E. On her third walk-in to A&E, she was finally admitted and diagnosed with oesophageal cancer.

I wasn’t angry or scared. I was just confused. It didn’t make sense to me, given my age and my lifestyle. I’d just recovered from burnout, and the life-changes that came alongside that. So at the time, oesophageal cancer didn’t seem like it was going to be as big as the storms I’d just weathered. 

Thankfully, my cancer hadn’t spread and I already had a wonderful support network in place.

Guts UK’s new oesophageal cancer research:

Guts UK are proud to announce that Dr Katja Christodoulou is continuing the promising results shown by Dr Sara Jamel discovering whether a breath test can be developed to pick up oesophageal cancer earlier.

Picture of Dr Katja Christodoulou smiling at the camera in a black top. “We are further developing a breath test to pick up oesophageal cancer in the early stages, when it is more likely to be cured. This test looks for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are small gas molecules.

The breath test is a simple, cost-effective procedure that is easy for patients. We hope to pick up those who are at high risk of developing early oesophageal cancer, so we can prioritise these people for an endoscopy.” – Dr Christodoulou.

Learn more about Dr Christodoulou's research

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