Oesophageal Cancer: ‘Early diagnosis gives you a real chance to get ready for what lies ahead’

Oesophageal Cancer Fund holds its annual fundraiser on Lollipop Day

"In August 2012, I began to experience persistent hiccups and the feeling of food being lodged in my windpipe," says Chris Radley. "I also had reflux and acid in the back of my throat.

“At first, I started taking the usual over the counter type of antacid remedies, but these didn’t help at all. Then in November, I decided to visit my GP which resulted in me coming away with a prescription for stomach tablets which I was advised to take for a month.

“The result of this medication wasn’t successful, so I went back to the doctor and in January 2013, I was sent to hospital for a ‘scope’ and then referred on to a consultant who would give me the diagnosis.”

Mr Radley, who is married to Moya and has two grown up sons, began to realise there was something seriously wrong when, following his endoscopy, it was suggested that a cancer diagnosis was possible. “The result of the scope indicated that I more than likely had cancer, so when I finally got the news, it wasn’t a total surprise,” he says.


“The consultant outlined the process of treatment I would need and what was involved in the [impending] surgery. I would also need further consultation with radiation and thoracic oncology specialists so a plan was designed and quickly put into action.”

Every year almost 500 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in Ireland. "I started on a course of radiation first," says Mr Radley, "and then that was followed with chemotherapy treatment which lasted from March through to May – and then I had surgery in June of that same year".

‘Fit as possible’

When the Dublin man, who works in the international freight transport industry, learned of the treatment programme ahead of him, he decided to put all his pre-surgery energies into getting fitter as he believed this would aid his recovery – and he says this worked well, as not only did it help him to get back on his feet in good time, but it has become part and parcel of his daily life.

“My approach from the outset was to try get as fit as possible in preparation for the surgery, so I started daily walks on the hills near where I live, along with floor exercises designed to improve the core of the body,” he says. “Then when the surgery came around I felt in good shape and ready for what was ahead. I was glad I put in the hard work exercising as it really paid off, making the recovery time shorter and my capability to build stamina quicker.

“Since then, I have continued this daily exercise routine and this also paid dividends because over the following six years, I went through three other cancer diagnoses in my kidney, liver and lung.

“The most recent treatment I went through was surgery to remove a tumour from my lung in 2021 and I’m glad to say that the recovery, although not as quick as I would have liked, continues well and I was back on the hills within a few weeks.”

The 66-year-old is very grateful to medics for helping him through his ordeal with oesophageal cancer (and the other cancer diagnoses which followed) and would urge anyone who has any concerns at all to visit their GP as soon as possible as the sooner treatment is started, the better the outcome is likely to be.

“My advice to anyone who experiences repeat symptoms of hiccupping, coughing, regular heartburn and or reflux during or after eating, is to get it checked out,” he says.

"Early diagnosis gives you a real chance to get ready for what lies ahead and vastly improves your chances of a successful treatment plan. I count myself lucky to live in a country that has the highest level of treatment available and carried out by gifted professionals. And supporting the Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) this Lollipop Day will help with advancements in treatments and support those professionals to save more lives."

The OCF is holding its annual fundraiser on Saturday May 7th and Sunday May 8th. This year, the charity will return to its traditional on-street format, selling lollipops and pins to raise awareness and funds (see ocf.ie).

“Lastly, I think it is very important for anyone who has just been diagnosed, to surround themselves with positive people,” says Mr Radley. “There is no room for negative thoughts so why listen or entertain them some any source. Unfortunately, some people prefer to concentrate on other people’s misfortunes, so be strong.”

Early diagnosis

Christine Littlefield, CEO of the OCF, says seeking advice for any concerns is very important. "Early diagnosis of Oesophageal cancer is key but 70 per cent of patients experiencing the symptoms, such as persistent heartburn, acid reflux, difficulty swallowing and weight loss, will wait over three months before seeking medical advice," she says.

“So if a person notices they are using medication for heartburn regularly then they should consult their GP.

“Public generosity to OCF fundraising over the past two decades has helped enormously in the fight against oesophageal cancer, with survival rates showing a 50 per cent improvement in Ireland, positioning us fourth internationally in terms of survivorship.”

Oesophageal Cancer

– Irish Oesophageal Cancer rates remain among the highest in Europe, with approximately 450-500 new diagnoses of this aggressive cancer each year.
– Cancer of the oesophagus is more common in older people as around 40 per cent of cases develop in people aged 75 or older.
– Being obese or having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 per cent or higher can be a risk factor.
– The risk of developing this type of cancer (along with many others) increases if you are a smoker.
– Chewing tobacco, using snuff, chewing areca nut and using betel quid (paan) also increases your risk.
– The less alcohol you drink, the lower your risk of developing cancer as alcohol increases the chances of developing squamous cell oesophageal cancer. And your risk increases further if you both drink and smoke.