Regular heartburn could be a sign of oesophageal (stomach) cancer, which can be fatal if diagnosed too late – and sufferers are being urged to visit their doctors as part of a new campaign by health experts.
The most recent available statistics showed there were 70 deaths from 100 registered cases of the deadly disease in the Manchester City Council area in 2012 – that is just a 30% survival rate.
The national ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ initiative was launched yesterday, after research revealed that only one in two people (55%) would visit their doctor despite suffering from the issue because it is widely recognised as being harmless.
Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “People may be reluctant to visit their doctor about persistent heartburn, thinking that it’s something they just have to live with.
“But heartburn most days for three weeks or more could be a sign of cancer. The earlier cancer is diagnosed, the higher the chance of survival.
“If we’re to improve early diagnosis rates, we need to encourage people with symptoms to go to their doctor.”
Early diagnosis of stomach cancer is vital and around 67% of people diagnosed with oesophago-gastric cancers at the earliest stage survive for at least five years. – this figure drops to around 3% for those diagnosed at a late stage.
Further findings revealed that 59% of respondents were unaware that heartburn could be a sign of cancer, with only 15% saying they were certain that it is a symptom.
Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer at NHS England, said: “Early diagnosis of cancer is absolutely critical to improving survival.
“Part of this is helping people understand what symptoms to look out for, which is why campaigns like this are so important.
“Patients with possible early signs and symptoms should visit their GP so where necessary they can be referred for tests, and treatment can start quickly.
“Early diagnosis is a key focus for us and will form part of the NHS’s new 5 year strategy for cancer, currently being developed by an independent taskforce.”
Oesophago-gastric cancers are the fourth and fifth most common cause of cancer death in men and women respectively.
Of those diagnosed with oesophago-gastric cancers, more than 9 out of 10 are over the age of 50, making this the target age group for the campaign that will see adverts running nationally on TV, radio and in the press over the next four weeks.
For further information about the signs and symptoms of oesophageal and stomach cancers, click here.
Image courtesy of Gaviscon, via YouTube, with thanks.