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City of London Medical Centre backs campaign to save lives through earlier diagnosis of oesophageal cancer

27 October 2014

The oesophagus is the narrow tube which connects your throat and your stomach. Acid reflux into the oesophagus is found in approximately 30% of the UK population. Reflux can lead to cancer of the oesophagus, which is now the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK and is steadily increasing. This has prompted the start of the Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Campaign.

Most people will suffer upper GI problems such as heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux from time to time. The Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Campaign aims to educate the population on the link between these common problems and cancer. 
Mr Andrew Davies and Mr James Gossage, Consultant General and Oesophagogastric Surgeons at the City of London Medical Centre explain further: “Oesophageal cancer awareness is not about causing panic amongst occasional sufferers of heartburn. Rather, it is attempting to raise the profile of oesophageal cancer and encourage people with persistent symptoms, particularly those that do not respond to medication, to seek the advice of their GP or hospital specialist.”
There is a small risk that long-standing reflux of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus can lead to Barrett’s oesophagus, which turn the cells of its inner lining from squamous cells to columnar cells – considered abnormal. Mr Davies adds, “Only the minority of patients who suffer from acid reflux will develop Barrett’s oesophagus and, of these, only a small proportion will go on to develop cancer. Nonetheless, oesophageal cancer tends to be diagnosed at an advanced stage so the early detection of symptoms is crucial if we are to improve survival rates. Patients on surveillance for Barrett’s oesophagus tend to have earlier detection of oesophageal cancer.”
Mr Davies highlights the main symptoms that should prompt investigation:
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
Persistent hiccups
Food sticking in the gullet
Persistent indigestion and vomiting despite treatment 
Unexplained weight loss 
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, Mr Davies strongly recommends referral to a specialist for consideration of endoscopy, where a camera is used to examine the oesophagus and stomach. 
Mr Gossage explains, “The aim of the One Stop Surgical Clinic is to provide a readily available service specialising in conditions affecting the stomach and oesophagus, including acid reflux and cancer surgery. The treatment of indigestion is predominantly with acid medication which successfully controls symptoms in the majority of patients. Sometimes a course of antibiotics to treat a bacteria in the stomach can also be used. Some patients with persistent and troublesome reflux are considered for surgery, and if selected appropriately can do extremely well with surgery which aims to repair the hiatus hernia and prevent acid reflux through keyhole surgery.”
Mr Gossage sums up the importance of raising awareness and offering a rapid and easily accessible service: “Oesophageal cancer awareness is important to raise the profile of one of the UK’s most lethal cancers. The hope is to highlight certain scenarios that warrant investigation and in doing so diagnose more oesophageal cancers at an early (and more treatable) stage.”