One in ten trusts has shortage of specialist oesophageal and stomach cancer surgeons
One in ten NHS hospital trusts in England and Wales does not have the minimum three surgeons required to provide care for patients with oesophageal (gullet) and stomach cancers, new figures show.
Oesophageal cancer is now the ninth most common adult cancer in the UK, with around 7,800 cases diagnosed every year. A similar number are diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Hospital trusts were meant to have met the target of at least three specialist surgeons by December 2007.
In September 2007, 39 out of 63 trusts had fewer than three specialist surgeons and this figure had improved to eight trusts within three months.
However, new figures from the three-year National Audit show that some trusts have still not met the target, meaning that lives may be placed at risk.
Report co-author Richard Hardwick, consultant surgeon and lead clinician for upper GI cancer for the Association of Upper GI Surgeons (AUGIS), told the BBC that the type of surgery required is "complicated" and patients must be constantly monitored by a specialist.
He said: "If you are going to provide a comprehensive service it is almost impossible to do with two surgeons.
"Three specialist surgeons is the absolute bare requirement. Otherwise you are getting by on a wing and a prayer."
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said that the findings highlight the importance of specialist treatment centres and support services.
"We know that results are better in those centres which have been able to do this, and good progress has been made in many places in the UK," he revealed.
"Oesophago-gastric cancer is often diagnosed late, and until recently the results of treatment have not been good, although trials using chemotherapy are showing promise.
"We are confident that with further effort to concentrate expertise we can make progress faster in the future."