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Clinical trials and biobanks: Irish charities using new methods to fight cancer

Rates of oesophageal cancer are much higher here than the European average, and the OCF wants to change that.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Raths

THE RATES OF oesophageal cancer diagnoses in women in Ireland are more than double the EU average and the Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) is looking to help fund more research into the disease through its Lollipop Day this year.

According to figures from the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI), incidences of oesophageal cancer are 155% higher than the EU average in women, and 49% higher than the average in men.

A higher proportion of men and women die from the disease in Ireland than in the rest of Europe, too.

To help reverse this trend, the OCF charity funds initiatives such as the national Oesophagus Registry and Biobank, which is a registry of patients at risk of developing this cancer of the food pipe, or gullet.

St James’s, Beaumont, St Vincent’s and the Mater in Dublin, and the Mercy in Cork, are able to register patients on the database.

National lead for oesophageal cancer Professor John Reynolds said: “5,000 patients are registered to date – 68% [are] male. With the first camera assessment of the oesophagus, 18% were identified at high risk of progressing to cancer.

Since the inception of the Registry over 300 patients with high-risk premalignant disease or early cancers have been treated.

Symptoms of this cancer include difficulty when swallowing food, frequent and persistent hiccups, acid indigestion, heartburn reflex and constant burping, belching and coughing.

The OCF is also currently funding a world-first clinical trial into new treatment of the disease at the Cork Cancer Research Centre which is testing short bursts of electrical energy sent directly to the tumour via an endoscopic device.

Its chief executive, Noelle Ryan, said: “If you had told me 16 years ago, that what began as six of us trying to honour our friend Lucilla would fund innovations like the Registry which saves lives, or grow to funding new technologies in treatment, I genuinely would not have believed it.

We could not do this without the generosity and support of the public. We receive no other funding.

Lollipop Day takes place on the 3-4 March and the list of locations they can be purchased can be found here.

Clinical trial

In separate news, Irish patients with the blood cancer multiple myeloma are set to be among the first patients worldwide to receive a new combination of drugs in an attempt to improve the results of chemotherapy.

This form of cancer sees plasma cells in our blood failing to produce the correct antibodies, causing the cells to become cancerous and stopping the blood from flowing properly.

Around 250 people each year are diagnosed with multiple myeloma in Ireland, and around 170 people die from it each year.

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Blood Cancer Network Ireland (BCNI) has recruited six patients at University Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital to receive the combination of new treatment daratumumab, also called Darzalex, along with standard chemotherapy drugs cyclophosphamide and bortezomib.

Although this trial is only in the early Phase I stage, daratumumab has already proven to be effective at treating the disease in numerous longer-term trials.

Irish patients on this trial will receive additional benefits, including state-of-the-art monitoring and access to the new treatment free of charge.

The BCNI is a €2.7 million joint research and clinical trials venture between the Irish Cancer Society and Science Foundation Ireland.

Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research at the Irish Cancer Society, said: “This latest clinical trial highlights the importance of investing in world class innovative and potentially life-changing Irish cancer research and we hope that the patients taking part will help identify even more improvements in care and outcomes for this disease.

Read: Death rate rises and births fall as cancer shown to be nation’s biggest killer

Read: You need to eat 10 fruit and veg a day to avoid serious illnesses, study says

About the author:

Sean Murray

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