In 2018, six charities came together and founded the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT). Lung, brain, liver, stomach, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers have the lowest survival rates, and these have not improved for over 40 years. Having noticed that these types of cancer were being underfunded and overlooked, the Action Against Heartburn, the Brain Tumour Charity, the British Liver Trust, Guts UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation formed a partnership to tackle this problem.
To mark Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month, we turned to the LSCT to discuss its campaign and the details of this type of cancer.
What are the core objectives of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce (LSCT)?
We want to improve outcomes and experiences of all people diagnosed in the UK with a less survivable cancer.
There are some cancers which have seen remarkable progress in survivability but others that are just as deadly as they were 40 years ago. Together, six of these less survivable cancers (lung, brain, liver, stomach, pancreatic and oesophageal) are responsible for half of all deaths from common cancers and make up a quarter of cancer cases.
People diagnosed with these cancers have a shockingly low life expectancy. Today, on average, the chance of someone surviving for five years after being diagnosed with one of these cancers is only 16%. We are campaigning for focused attention and investment to diagnose these cancers earlier and faster, and to ensure everyone receives the best treatment and care available. We also need to see a step-change in research investment so we can find better tools to diagnose these cancers, and better treatments for people once diagnosed.
Oesophageal cancer is one of the six types of cancers you focus on. What are the risk factors for oesophageal cancer?
The most prevalent form of this cancer is the adenocarcinoma type where the key risk factor is obesity. This is because the extra weight on the stomach pushes stomach acid up into the oesophagus which, in excessive cases, can cause the cancer. In the squamous cell type of the disease, the key risks are smoking and alcohol (especially together) which likewise adversely affect the oesophagus and can cause cancer. As smoking has declined, so the incidence of squamous cell oesophageal cancer has declined, while that of the adenocarcinoma type has increased with the rising incidence of obesity in modern society.
What are symptoms of oesophageal cancer?
It’s vital that people recognise possible symptoms and see their GP if they are worried. Symptoms can be vague and include difficulty swallowing, persistent indigestion or heartburn, loss of appetite and weight loss, vomiting, pain or discomfort in stomach, chest or back, a persistent cough, hoarseness, tiredness and shortness of breath.
Why do significantly more men than women suffer from oesophageal cancer?
More men than women suffer from oesophageal cancer because men tend to carry excess body weight on their stomachs, while women tend to carry it on their hips. The effect of excess weight on the stomach can push stomach acid into the oesophagus which in excessive cases can cause the cancer.
The LSCT has an aim to double survival rates by 2029. How do you hope to achieve this?
We are advocating for specific commitments and targets for the less survivable cancers to drive forward the transformational changes we need in diagnosis, treatments and care. We believe that we need tailored strategies which set an ambition to double survival rates for people with a less survivable cancer over the course of the next decade. These strategies could boost survival rates by prioritising:
- optimal pathways for everyone diagnosed with a less survivable cancer;
- boosting research investment to achieve breakthroughs in diagnostic tests & treatments; and
- investing in early detection and faster diagnosis.
What else are you hoping to achieve by 2029?
We hope to see action prioritised by governments and health services across the UK in order to improve outcomes and experiences for everyone diagnosed with a less survivable cancer, including clear strategies implemented by health services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Find out more on our website and follow us at @LessSurvivable.
Many thanks for your time and for the interview.