Cancer survivor Brenda Dawes is backing a campaign which reveals nine out of 10 people in the North East are unaware of the link heartburn has to cancer.
Suffering heartburn and acid reflux, unlike many living in the region, 80-year-old Brenda knew the telltale signs of oesophageal cancer after losing her mum to the disease.
Acting fast she visited her GP and within weeks was undergoing surgery after it was confirmed the difficulty she’d been having swallowing was actually stage two cancer of the oesophagus.
Within weeks Brenda, who lives in County Durham, had the bottom half of her oesophageal tube and the top half of her stomach removed along with a number of chest and abdominal glands.
She said: “I’m so grateful I had a basic understanding from my mother’s history or I wouldn’t have gone to my local GP when I started to experience symptoms.
“If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here today. I want to reassure people there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“I consider myself fortunate that I got to my GP straight away, and have survived as a result.”
Knowing the benefit of acting quickly, Brenda is getting behind the latest Be Clear on Cancer campaign launched today by Public Health England.
Latest figures from the region show 88% of those surveyed didn’t link heartburn to cancer.
The regional campaign follows a successful pilot in the North East and North Cumbria in 2012.
Following the awareness drive the number of patients diagnosed with oesophageal cancer increased by 37% (to 469) compared to 2011 when 343 people living in the North East were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and 404 with stomach cancer.
Dr Tony Branson, Medical Director at the North of England Cancer Network, said: “It’s really important people are aware that persistent heartburn could be a symptom of cancer.
“Even if you’re taking medicine and it seems to help, you still need to see your doctor if you have heartburn most days.
“Chances are it’s nothing serious, but if there is something wrong, then finding it early makes it more treatable.”
Symptoms of the cancer include having persistent heartburn, losing weight for no reason, feeling bloated after eating, difficulty swallowing food and stomach pain.
Prof Michael Griffin, professor of surgery at the Northern Oesophagogastric Unit who first diagnosed Brenda, added: “We have one of the highest incidences in the world for a particular type of oesophageal cancer known as adenocarcinoma, which can be devastating.
“However, picking up the disease in either its pre-cancerous or earliest form allows us to prevent or cure in almost all cases.”
Launched today, the four-week campaign will feature a series of adverts alongside events at football and rugby clubs across the area.
Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’ve still a long way to go to make everyone aware of the symptoms of oesophageal and stomach cancers.
“Diagnosing and treating these cancers early is key to improving the chances of survival.
“Food getting stuck when you swallow and persistent heartburn are not normal.
“If this is happening to you, you need to see your GP.”