Mr Ewen Griffiths, Consultant Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon at QEHB has marked oesophageal cancer awareness month this February by writing the following article on oesophageal cancer and how patients are supported at QEHB. 

February is oesophageal cancer awareness month.   Many cancer charities come together on this month to raise public awareness of oesophageal cancer.

These charities, include Cancer Research UK, Oesophageal Patients Association, Ochre, Barratt’s oesophagus campaign, Action Against Heartburn amongst many others.

Oesophageal cancer is a devastating cancer which usually affects the lower oesophagus.   Unfortunately it usually present late when curable treatment option are limited.

When the cancer is caught earlier, however, more curable treatment options are available. These treatment options include removal of the tumour by endoscopy if it is very early, surgical removal or surgical removal after chemotherapy or chemo-radiotherapy. Therefore, catching the cancer at its earliest stage is of the upmost priority.

Symptoms of oesophageal or stomach cancer were highlighted by the governments ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign in 2015 run by Public Health England. If we’re to improve early diagnosis rates, we need to encourage people with symptoms to go to their doctor, which is what Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month is all about.

Heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more could be a sign of oesophageal or stomach cancer. Other symptoms of oesophageal or stomach cancer may include:
• food feels like it’s sticking in your throat or gullet when you swallow
• indigestion on and off for 3 weeks or more
• losing weight for no obvious reason
• feeling full very quickly when eating
• nausea or vomiting
• persistent pain or discomfort in your upper tummy area

If any of these symptoms occur the patient is advised to book an urgent appointment with their General Practitioner to ask whether an urgent referral for an endoscopy is required. Male patients, those over the age of 50 and smokers with any of these symptoms are at particular risk of oesophageal cancer. You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time. You will either get reassurance that it isn’t cancer, or if it is, you will have a better chance of successful treatment.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is a specialist centre for the treatment of oesophageal and gastric cancer. It has specialist surgeons, gastroenterologists, oncologists and other specialists who are expert in treating this cancer.

For example, we currently have six surgeons who perform surgery for oesophageal cancer, often using keyhole surgery with small cuts rather than large ones.   We also have two specialist gastroenterologists and one radiologist who are experts in removing very early oesophageal cancer via the endoscope and in some patients this avoids major surgery. Our three specialist oncologists are experts in treating this cancer with chemotherapy or radiotherapy or both.  We meet every week to discuss the treatment of individual patients with this cancer. We have a dedicated team of specialist nurses to help guide patients through cancer treatment.

The hospital also has an active patient support group dedicated to this type of cancer. They meet to provide support to one and other on a regular basis at the hospital. More information can be found about the group here including meeting dates. They are kindly supported by Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity and raise money to help patients with this cancer and cancer research.

Ewen Griffiths
Consultant Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon
Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham