City surgeon to discuss 'quiet cancer epidemic' with MP

Tim UnderwoodA leading Southampton surgeon will discuss how the UK can tackle the "quiet epidemic" of oesophageal cancer with Winchester and Chandler's Ford MP Steve Brine today (Monday).

Mr Tim Underwood, who is based at Southampton General Hospital, said cases of the cancer – which affects the gullet or food pipe – are on the rise, with men three times more likely than women to develop the disease.

Latest figures show 5,600 men developed oesophageal cancer in 2010, compared with 2,800 women, making it the ninth most common type in the UK. 

In Southampton, although almost 300 patients were referred for review and treatment in 2012, which is up from 160 in 2001, only 70 were suitable for surgery with intent to cure their cancer.

“In addition to being one of the most difficult cancers to detect and treat – only around one in 10 patients survive for 10 years or more – cases are on the rise, so we need action and we need it quickly,” he explained.

“We are seeing a quiet epidemic of oesophageal cancer in the UK right now and outcomes are poor, which means our immediate focus must be on prevention through lifestyle choices and early diagnosis.”

There are two forms of the disease – squamous cell carcinoma linked to smoking, drinking and a low fruit intake and adenocarcinoma linked to obesity, smoking and persistent acid reflux, which is commonly referred to as heartburn.

If left untreated, acid reflux can damage cells of the oesophagus leading to a condition called Barrett's oesophagus which, in turn, can be a precursor of oesophageal cancer.

Mr Underwood, who is also a Medical Research Council clinical scientist, added: "Food getting stuck when you swallow and persistent heartburn are not normal so, if this is happening to you, you need to see your GP.

“The vast majority of people won't have anything seriously wrong with them, but it's important to get checked out.”

During his visit, Conservative MP Mr Brine will meet staff and patients on a new dedicated upper gastrointestinal surgical ward and find out more about Mr Underwood's cancer marathon challenge on behalf of Cancer Research UK.

To find out more about the cancer marathon and to donate, visit

Posted on Monday 16 September 2013