OG Cancer NI Welcomes Minister’s Cancer Plan

Charity warns that patients need referrals dealt with without further delays

OG Cancer NI, the charity that supports those with oesophageal and gastric cancers has welcomed Health Minister, Robin Swann’s, three-year Cancer Recovery Plan to rebuild Northern Ireland’s cancer services.

Chair of OG Cancer NI, Helen Setterfield, said the plan, together with £30m to tackle all waiting lists, was urgently needed.

“Even before the pandemic it was clear that cancer waiting times were too long,” she said. “Each year there are 400 people diagnosed with oesophageal or gastric cancers, and when we learn that all cancer targets in the first quarter of 2021 were missed it is a major concern.
“We urge the Minister to make sure that, as the plan is rolled out, that he and his team speak to specialists across all cancer fields to hear what can be done to improve the service, adopt new diagnostic tools, and reduce waiting times.”

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Helen Setterfield, chair, OG Cancer NI outside the Cancer Centre at the Belfast City Hospital ahead of the launch of the OG Cancer 2021 Catch It Early campaign which is encouraging people to look for the signs of oesophageal-gastric cancers.
Photo by Francine Montgomery / Excalibur Press

Mrs Setterfield, herself a survivor of cancer, also warned that due to the pandemic, there has been a drop in the number being diagnosed, but people should not hesitate to contact their GP if they experience symptoms.

At present the only diagnostic test for oesophageal and gastric cancers is an invasive scope examination.

The OG Cancer chair welcomed the Minister’s commitment in the three-year plan to investigate a new diagnostic tool called a Cytosponge. This is a procedure that can be carried out in a health centre or at a GP surgery. It involves swallowing a tablet on a string which contains a sponge that will collect cells for testing.

“We are absolutely delighted that the Health Minister is aware of this trial and hopefully, it will be available in Northern Ireland in the very near future as part of the recovery plan,” she said. “It has finished clinical trials and during the pandemic it was used in England and it was very successful. We are hoping that with the inclusion in the cancer recovery plan for Northern Ireland it will soon be available here.”

People diagnosed early have much better outcomes, making the OG Cancer awareness message and new tests such as the Cytosponge vital.

“If you look at the statistics for oesophageal and gastric cancer, they are really very poor and quite frightening,” Mrs Setterfield explained. “People who are diagnosed at an early stage have a good chance of surviving 5 years or more. If you are diagnosed at a late stage such as stage 4, you only have a 3.4% chance of survival.

“What we are determined to do is to get this message out so that people know if you have difficulty swallowing, that’s not right. If you have heartburn, persistent heartburn, continuous heartburn, that’s not right. Please, if you do suffer from any of these symptoms, get them checked out. It could save your life.”

OG Cancer NI has funded researcher at Queen’s University which will transform the care of oesophago-gastric patients. The charity has also funded an audit by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry.

“Recently the registry completed an audit for oesophageal cancer, but there was no audit completed for gastric cancer, so we donated the money to allow this to happen,” explained Mrs Setterfield. “The audit will inform all the medics of the successes in what they do, identify weaknesses and thus enable improvements in the OG cancer patient pathway.”

OG Cancer NI provides support and services to those diagnosed with oesophageal or gastric cancer, and works to increase awareness and promote research. All members are volunteers mostly ex-patients or former carers. Pre covid-19 they provided an information stand at the City Hospital to coincide with the oesophago-gastric clinic, this will resume as soon as possible in the wake of the pandemic. Members work closely with the clinical team. Regular meetings have been held online during lockdowns, and fundraising will continue.

For further information go to ogcancerni.com, follow #OGCancerNI, call 07568 157450 or make an appointment to see your local GP today.