Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month

February is Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month, but what is Oesophageal cancer?

Oesophageal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the gullet, the tube that links the mouth to the stomach. It affects men more often than women, with almost 7 out 10 cases being male and its is particularly common among white males. The risk of developing oesophageal cancer increases with age, with drinking, smoking and being overweight also increasing risk.

Over 9,200 people were diagnosed with the disease in the UK in 2015, and from those almost 8,000 died (85% mortality rate). One of the reasons this type of cancer is so lethal is that it does not usually cause any symptoms in the early stages, so it is often picked up late, when the cancer has grown bigger and/or already spread. Symptoms of oesophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing, persistent indigestion or heartburn, bringing up food after eating, loss of appetite and weight loss, and discomfort in the upper chest, gut or back area. These symptoms can be caused by other conditions and often they are not due to cancer, but it is important to get them checked by a GP.

Because it can be hard to detect oesophageal cancer early, research has been directed to developing tests that can find it sooner, or detecting changes to the lining of the oesophagus that can precede cancer. These tests try to pick up changes by using saliva, breath, or a special sponge to pick up cells scraped from the lining of the oesophagus. You can read more about the research that Guts UK is funding towards one of these tests, the spit test being developed by Professor Laurence Lovat at University College London (UCL).

Examples of other types of test in development include:

Cytosponge, a pill on a string that has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge.

A simple breath test is also being tested in its efficiency in detecting Oesophageal cancer.

Guts UK also supports a campaign to raise awareness of the high mortality rate of oesophageal cancer, as well as other cancer types with a poor survival rate, such as cancer of the pancreas, liver, stomach, brain and lung. The campaign is part of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce and Guts UK represents stomach cancer, while our collaborators Action Against Heartburn represent oesophageal cancer.

Examples of Guts UK-funded research into conditions of the oesophagus include:

Dr Laurence Lovat – Salivary EpigeNetics to Stratify Oesophageal Cancer Risk (SENSOR)

Dr James Evans – Investigating the clonal origins and dysplasia risk in Barrett’s oesophagus

Dr Conor McCann – Enteric neural stem cell therapy for Oesophageal Achalasia and Diabetic Gastroparesis

Dr Richard Ingram – Improving the care of patients with gastrointestinal bleeding

Dr Sara Jamel – Discovering whether cancerous cell changes can be detected using a breath test

You can find out more about Barrett’s Oesophagus, a risk factor in developing Oesophageal cancer, in our Barrett’s Oesophagus Factsheet


Who can help?

If you’re in need of more information or help try: Action Against Heartburn, Macmillan & Ochre.

What you can do:

Guts UK is a proud founding charity member of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce. This task force is a group of charities, aiming to double survival rates for the six least survivable cancers by 2029. Four of these six cancers are digestive; stomach, pancreatic, oesophageal and liver.

Discover how you can get involved here, email us at info@gutscharity.org.uk or call 01484 483123 to learn more. Hearing from you is the best part of our job – don’t be a stranger!