Be Clear on Cancer campaign raises awareness that ongoing heartburn can be a sign of cancer

Published on: Thursday, 29-January-2015

The latest ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign launched earlier this week urging people to visit their doctor if they have heartburn most days for three weeks or more, as this can be a sign of oesophageal or stomach cancer.

Matthew Ashton, Director of Public Health in Knowsley, said “Early diagnosis and treatment of cancer can save lives. Heartburn most days for three weeks or more could be a sign of cancer as could food feeling like it’s sticking in your throat when you swallow. I would urge anyone experiencing these symptoms to seek medical help.

“The chances are it's nothing serious but finding it early makes it more treatable and early diagnosis and treatment of cancer can save lives.”

The campaign launch coincides with results of a new survey commissioned by Public Health England, which reveals that nationally, only one in two people (55%) would visit their doctor if they experience the above symptom.

Early diagnosis of oesophageal or stomach cancer (also known as oesophago-gastric cancers) is crucial and means treatment is more likely to be successful. Nationally, 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.

According to the survey, 59% of respondents did not know that heartburn could be a sign of cancer with just 15% saying they were certain that it is a symptom. 

Another symptom highlighted by the campaign is that of difficulty swallowing food. Here the survey found that 70% did not know food sticking in the throat could be a sign of cancer and just 13% of those surveyed said they were sure it is a symptom.

Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, explains the importance of this awareness activity: "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, which is what this latest Be Clear on Cancer campaign aims to do.”

The four-week campaign will see adverts running nationally throughout England on TV, radio and in the press.

For further information about the signs and symptoms of oesophageal and stomach cancers, please visit nhs.uk/ogcancer