New cancer centre to improve treatment for thousands - Barts Charity
squamous cancer

New East London cancer centre to improve treatment for thousands

The new centre will explore who is at risk of developing squamous cancer and why.

  • Date: June 16, 2021

A world-leading centre

A world-leading cancer centre is being set up in East London to improve survival rates and quality of life for thousands of people affected by squamous cancer – a specific type of cancer which affects the mouth, skin, lungs and cervix.
More than 70,000 people are diagnosed with squamous cancer every year in the UK. It is the most common cause of solid tumours and results in many deaths.
The Barts Centre for Squamous Cancer is being set up with a £2.6m grant from Barts Charity, and will have a dedicated focus on mouth cancer as this is a particularly common problem among the local East London population.

Worrying statistics

Mouth cancer has increased by 58% over the past decade, yet despite more than 8,700 people being diagnosed every year across the UK, only one in five people know the main signs and symptoms.
Many patients will not survive for five years after being diagnosed, and for those who do, treatment can be harsh and disfiguring, often leaving a devastating impact on a person’s appearance and ability to eat, drink and speak.
"The risk of being diagnosed with oral cancer is strongly associated with social deprivation, and this is a particular health challenge in London."
Paul Coulthard, Professor or Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery

Risk factors

Smoking, alcohol, diet, and various viruses all increasing an individual’s risk of developing oral cancer, and it is a particular problem in areas of high social deprivation, and among certain groups, such as South Asian communities.
In the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the rate has risen by a third over the past decade to 21.5 people per 100,000, and it continues to increase among younger adults due to tobacco use.

Links to social deprivation

Paul Coulthard from Queen Mary University of London, where the new centre will be based, said:
“Oral cancer has been underfunded for many years, and we hope that by bringing our expertise together in this new centre we will be able to develop a better understanding of mouth cancer. Awareness of risk factors and symptoms is still very low, and we hope our work will improve detection, diagnosis, and access to treatment.
“We know that the risk of being diagnosed with oral cancer is strongly associated with social deprivation, and this is a particular health challenge in London. This centre will enable us to develop a much better understanding of who is at risk and why, so that we can improve treatment and the quality of life for all those affected, both in the UK and wider afield.”

Bringing together experts

The Barts Centre for Squamous Cancer will bring together clinical and research experts who will work with patient groups, run clinical trials, and build a human tissue bank to improve knowledge and understanding of squamous cancer.

A thankful patient

Steve Bergman was diagnosed with Stage 4 Squamous Throat Cancer in May 2016:
“It took me by complete surprise and within two weeks I was admitted to Whipps Cross Hospital for what I thought was a routine exploratory operation.

“I had to have radical surgery to remove a massive growth on my right tonsil and I woke up to find I had been fitted with a tracheostomy. I was in hospital for a further two weeks to recover, and then came a period where I underwent six weeks of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiotherapy.

“I then went through a period of physical recovery but the psychological and emotional impact of my condition affected everyday life.

“From two or so weeks into radiotherapy until several weeks after the treatment finished, I lost the ability to swallow, my saliva glands stopped working, and I completely lost all sense of taste and developed ulcers in my throat and mouth. However, I have been very fortunate as everything has returned to fully functioning. Currently, I am fit and healthy and have been clear of cancer for nearly 6 years.”

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