New cancer clinic begins in Colchester
15 March 2012
A new clinic has started in Colchester for patients with the same type of cancer that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and snooker player Paul Hunter were diagnosed with.
It means that for the first time patients living in north east Essex with neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) no longer have to travel to the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust in London, apart from for the most specialist treatments.
In addition, patients from as far afield as Basildon and Southend are coming to Colchester to attend the monthly clinic, which was first held in February.
NETs are relatively uncommon, usually slow-growing, cancers and occur mostly in the digestive tract but can arise in many other parts of the body such as the lungs and pancreas. Since most of them grow very slowly when compared with other cancers, it usually takes many years before they become sizable or cause symptoms.
The new clinic at Colchester General Hospital is run by Dr Mary McStay, consultant physician and gastroenterologist, in conjunction with consultant oncologists Drs Bruce Sizer and Sunil Skaria, and consultant surgeon Mr Don Menzies.
Dr McStay said: "We believe that patients from north east Essex will welcome this new clinic because it is far more convenient for them than having to travel to London.
"The incidence of neuroendocrine tumours is rising and because people who have been diagnosed need regular hospital check-ups, often for the rest of their lives, more and more people will come to the clinic.
"Although these tumours are usually slow-growing and will sometimes not grow at all for up to 10 years, they can in some instances be very aggressive, so regular monitoring is essential."
Each year, approximately 2,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with NETs. As they are slow-growing cancers there are thought to be approximately 15,000 people livings with NETs, making it one of the top five cancers affecting men and women of all ages. NETs are now twice as common as pancreatic cancer.
However, because they can grow slowly and in some people produce only minor symptoms, doctors believe there are probably thousands of people living their lives with NETs, but unaware.
NETs develop from specialised cells that make and release peptides and hormones. The peptides and hormones released into the bloodstream by these tumours can affect the function of different organs and cause symptoms such as flushing and diarrhoea.
NETs is an umbrella term describing different types of tumour such as carcinoid tumours and pancreatic endocrine tumours, including gastrinoma.
It is quite common for NETs to be found during tests or treatments for other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, peptic ulcer, gastritis or gallstones.
A wide range of treatments are used, which include surgery, hormone treatment, chemotherapy, ablative therapies and targeted radionuclide therapy.
Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour in 2003 and died in October last year at the age of 56.
English snooker play Paul Hunter was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours in March 2005 and died in October 2006, shortly before his 28th birthday.
Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital and Essex County Hospital, aims to become a specialist NET centre for the whole Essex Cancer Network.
The European Neuroendocrine Tumour Society says there are significant and positive consequences to patients being treated in specialist NET centres.
*One of the first patients to attend the new clinic in Colchester was Graham Woodger, aged 48, of Basildon. He had a tumour removed from his bowel in 2008 but still needs to see Dr McStay every six months. He has just set up a page on Facebook for the Essex NET Patients Support Group.