Dr John Nathan
Dr John Nathan came to the club to enlighten us about pancreatic cancer. His unique perspective derives from a lifetime practicing medicine as a GP, and then becoming a cancer patient himself. In 2012, having recently retired, he was looking forward to being a volunteer guide at the London 2012 Olympics and going to Cambodia to work as a medical volunteer at a children’s hospital. His plans had to be cancelled when some minor symptoms produced a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. A major operation and courses of chemotherapy followed, and John made an excellent recovery.
He told us how lucky he was to survive. Pancreatic cancer is the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths, and the death rates have improved by only 1% in the last 40-50 years. This contrasts with the huge improvement in outcomes achieved over the same period with many other cancers. Less than 5% of pancreatic cancer sufferers survive the disease.
One major problem is the difficulty of early diagnosis. There is no simple screening test, and symptoms are unlikely to appear until the disease has spread. 50% of sufferers receive their diagnosis after some acute crisis has led to their visiting the accident and emergency department. By then it is usually too late for surgery. Only 10% of patients are suitable for surgery, and of those, less than half survive long term.
The other major problem is the difficulty of targeting the tumour with treatments other than surgery. The cancer develops a hard protective shell which keeps cancer-busting drugs out. More research is needed: currently only 1% of cancer research money is devoted to pancreatic cancer. Money is needed to attract top young scientists who can devote their careers to finding a cure.
Dr Nathan is an active member of a Leeds support group, and also sits on the Pancreatic Cancer UK Scientific Advisory Board, which has a strong international membership to ensure that funds raised will be spent as effectively as possible.
We are grateful to Dr Nathan for raising our awareness of this comparatively neglected disease, and took some comfort from the fact that he looked so well, as he enjoyed the hospitality of the Club at Sand Moor. [see photo]