Hospital trust launches pioneering 'Super Saturday' cancer testing event

Tim Underwood

Clinicians in Southampton will launch the UK’s first ‘Super Saturday’ testing event for oesophageal and stomach cancer tomorrow following a "surge" in referrals.

The innovative idea, which will see a team of nurses, gastroenterologists and surgeons at Southampton General Hospital carry out investigative procedures – known as endoscopies – throughout the day, comes just over a month after the start of Public Health England's Be Clear on Cancer campaign.

The project, which set out to increase awareness of the link between persistent heartburn and difficulty swallowing with possible oesophageal – also known as gullet – or stomach cancer, has seen referrals for testing in Southampton increase by around 50%.

“We have seen a surge in referrals since the launch of the Be Clear on Cancer campaign. We had anticipated this increase in demand, so much so that we have had to develop new methods of coping, which is where the idea for our Scoping Super Saturday comes in,” explained Mr Tim Underwood, a consultant oesophageal surgeon and MRC clinician scientist.

“We have been pushing the message about how crucial it is that people go to their doctor if they have been experiencing persistent heartburn for three weeks or more, or if they develop problems swallowing, as these can both be symptoms of oesophageal or stomach cancer.

“Earlier diagnosis makes curative treatment possible and could potentially save hundreds of lives. It's great to see that people are playing their part by seeing their GP and getting referred to us for testing, so it is only right we meet those efforts by providing additional services.”

The most recent data reveals that in the Wessex region, around 710 people are diagnosed with oesophageal or stomach cancer – also known as oesophago-gastric cancers – every year and approximately 530 people die from the diseases annually.

However, around 67% of people diagnosed at the earliest stage survive for at least five years. This figure drops to around 3% for those diagnosed at a late stage.

Mr Underwood, who is also an associate professor of surgery at the University of Southampton, added: “The increase we are seeing in people coming in for investigatory procedures shows people are starting to recognise how important it is to visit their doctor about persistent heartburn and swallowing difficulties and that, by getting checked out, we can either rule out anything serious or take action.

“I am delighted we are helping to change public perception in this area and proud to be part of a fantastic team of clinical staff who are changing working practices to adapt to new challenges.”

In addition to a full list of endoscopy procedures, the team will be hosting a public awareness event throughout the day featuring information stands with representatives from Heartburn Cancer UK and Barrett's Wessex.

Posted on Friday 13 March 2015