Updated: Friday, 13th December 2019 @ 7:14am

End the 'embarrassment and stigma': Behind Cancer Campaign launch calendar over rare form of disease

End the 'embarrassment and stigma': Behind Cancer Campaign launch calendar over rare form of disease

By Rob Lowson

The ‘embarrassment and stigma’ attached to a rare form of cancer is being tackled with the help of a calendar, created by those affected by the disease.

Proceeds from the 2013 ‘Behind Cancer Campaign’ calendar will be split between the Christie, the UK’s first officially accredited cancer centre, and the HPV and Anal Cancer Foundation.

The aim of the campaign is to de-stigmatise anal cancer, a rare form of the disease that affects less than 1,000 people in the UK every year.

Ellie De Nardo, 22, set up the Behind Cancer Campaign and the concept of the calendar after her mother Jill was diagnosed with anal cancer in June 2010.

Having never even heard of the cancer before, a lack of information and the stigma wrongly attached to the disease forced Ms De Nardo to take action.

She said: “I recruited 11 brave and beautiful friends and family and persuaded them to strip off and bare all to be photographed for a stunning calendar, which was sold to encourage people to talk about anal cancer and to recognise the early symptoms.”

After a break in 2012, a brand new calendar is back on sale this year and Ms De Nardo said she is ‘thrilled’ to have so many beautiful women bare all to fight the cancer’s taboo.

Ms De Nardo told MM: “We have had a fantastic response so far with regards to promoting the awareness of anal cancer.

“We have had people get in touch telling us they never even knew it existed, and people from all over the world sending messages to say they have been affected, thanking us for educating others about this.”

A share of the proceeds raised by the calendar are going to the Christie hospital in Manchester, the largest cancer centre in Europe, as this is where Ellie’s mother Jill received her treatment for the disease in 2010.

“The work done at the Christie is fantastic, and the support they gave my mother was wonderful,” she said.

“She had a great doctor called Dr Saunders who was brilliant all the way through, doing what he could to answer all her questions and worries.

“He has also been very supportive of our campaign.”

MM spoke to Dr Saunders, who said it was ‘great’ for the Christie to be associated with the calendar.

When asked why public awareness of anal cancer was so low, he said: “Because it is rare, people get it confused with bowel cancer.

“Also, people are ‘embarrassed’ to have anal cancer. There’s no reason to be though, since the vast majority of patients are just unlucky to get it.

“This is why it is great that the calendar is trying to stop this sort of embarrassment and stigma.”

The Christie treats more people diagnosed with the disease than any other specialist centre in the country, seeing around 50 patients per year.

Dr Saunders told MM that trials are being developed to try and advance new treatments for the disease.

He said: “We are planning a trial at the Christie in collaboration with other centres – ‘SeNSAR’.

“The plan is to biopsy a patient’s groin nodes, to hopefully not give radiotherapy to this region to reduce toxicity if the biopsy is negative”.

Jill De Nardo is a patient representative on the SeNSAR trial, and the Christie hope proceeds from the calendar sales will be used to further this research and maintain the national anal cancer database.

Anal cancer patients can suffer shame and isolation due to the part of the body affected, as well as ignorance and assumptions about the cause and transmission of the disease.

Despite the stigma, the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes anal cancer in 90% of cases is actually incredibly prevalent.

According to NHS figures, over 80% of sexually active people are exposed to HPV at some point in their lives.

If caught early, anal cancer responds well to treatment but unfortunately the early symptoms are often confused and misdiagnosed.

Cancer Research UK stresses the importance of supporting projects, such as the Behind Cancer Campaign, that help put the rarer forms of cancer in the public eye.

Emma Smith, Senior Science Communications Officer, said: “Anyone who’s been affected by cancer will be used to hearing about the ‘big four’ – breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancer, the most common types in the UK.

“But people who are diagnosed with one of the many rare types of cancer may sometimes feel that their disease isn’t receiving much publicity.

“We’re acutely aware that rare cancers don’t always get the attention they need, that’s why these diseases are a priority for us.

“We know more research is needed to help patients and save more lives.”

The Behind Cancer Campaign 2013 calendars are priced at just £10 and can be ordered directly from www.behindcancercampaign.org.uk

For more information on Christie cancer centre’s work, visit www.christie.nhs.uk

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