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MS raises concerns about ‘silent, often invisible’ oesophageal and stomach cancers

the senedd in cardiff bay
The Senedd Credit: Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament

A surgeon-turned-Senedd member raised concerns about “silent, often invisible” oesophageal and stomach cancers claiming far too many lives in Wales.

Altaf Hussain, a former consultant orthopaedic surgeon, led a short debate on tackling oseophagael and stomach cancer.

The Conservative MS told the Senedd the cancers and their patients have not had the same status, attention or advocacy as other cancers.

He said: “Tackling oesophageal and stomach cancer has a special meaning for me. When I started my training in the 1970s, my first operations were removing oesophageal cancers.”

Mr Hussain, who represents South Wales West, highlighted the “grim” picture painted by a Tenovus Cancer Care report, entitled A Burning Issue.

He said more than 800 people – almost three people a day – received an oesophageal or stomach cancer diagnosis in 2020, changing their lives forever.


“While these cancers account for 4.5% of cancer incidence, they account for 7.7% of cancer deaths,” said Mr Hussain. “That is over 600 people in 2021 – precious lives lost, leaving a void in families and communities across Wales.”

Mr Hussain warned most cases are diagnosed in the late stages of the disease, with just over 40% diagnosed at stage four compared with 5% for breast cancer.

He told the Senedd on Wednesday January 24: “Catching these cancers at an early stage is critical, if we’re going to make them more survivable.

“As both oesophageal and stomach cancers often have vague or no symptoms, increasing symptom awareness can be challenging.”

Tenovus will launch oesophageal cancer awareness month in February, encouraging people with persistent indigestion and prolonged heartburn to speak to their GP.

The Tory raised research which found that nearly half of patients have to visit their GP more than twice to get a referral and 19% are diagnosed in an A&E department in Wales.

He said: “With greater awareness, targeted actions and the unwavering spirit of Wales, we can turn the tide and improve the outcomes for every patient facing these challenges.”


Joyce Watson, a Labour MS who represents Mid and West Wales, focused her contribution on Barrett’s oesophagus – the only known precursor condition to oesophageal cancer.

She backed Mr Hussain’s calls for a national Barrett’s registry to standardise data collection and improve monitoring of those most at risk of oesophageal cancer.

She called for greater awareness, saying: “Until I was faced with a very close family member having the condition and then going on to having stage four cancer, I’d never heard of it.”

Ms Watson urged the health minister to look into innovative diagnostic tools.

Cefin Campbell told MSs his father and uncle died of stomach cancer at a very young age.

The Plaid Cymru MS for Mid and West Wales said his GP insists on a regular endoscopy as a preventative measure due to his family history.

He suggested families who have a history of stomach cancer or Barrett’s could be contacted and encouraged to have endoscopies to detect the disease earlier.

Eluned Morgan outlined work to address so-called less survivable cancers which are typically harder to spot, limiting treatment options and survival outcomes.

Baroness Morgan said these cancers are too often first spotted in A&E, or as an incidental finding, rather than through routine care.

‘Enormous pressures’

Between January and October 2023, only about 54% of people on the upper gastrointestinal cancer pathway started treatment within 62 days.

“We recognise that that isn’t good enough,” said Wales’ health minister.

Baroness Morgan raised the “enormous” pressures on cancer services, with a 53% increase in the number of people referred onto the suspected cancer pathway since 2020.

The minister raised the crucial role of GPs and the importance of training – highlighting a large, long-term increase in the number of people being referred for suspected cancer.

“If they’ve got an inkling but they’re not sure, we have this rapid diagnostic system that they can also refer to as well,” she said.

“I’m really pleased that’s the first in the UK where we have the whole population covered.”

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MS raises concerns about ‘silent, often invisible’ oesophageal and stomach cancers