Early oesophageal cancer diagnosis saves life of Reading music publisher

  • ITV News Meridian's Nicki Woodcock met John Saunderson five years after his diagnosis

A music publisher from Reading who was treated for oesophageal cancer says he wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for his early diagnosis.

John Saunderson, 64, visited his GP after suffering from a sharp pain in his chest when he ate.

John said: "They put this camera down there and when they pulled it up I said ‘right what is it? Is it an ulcer?’ and he said ‘no, I’m really sorry but you’ve got oesophageal cancer and it’s quite a bad one’ and of course when you hear that word you automatically think, that’s it, I’m gone.

"I’ve got three children and I wanted to see their children, that was a really scary time for my wife and I, but she was a rock."

Doctors found a 2cm tumour (top left) on John's oesophagus. Credit: John Saunderson

Within two weeks John had chemotherapy, followed by an 11 hour operation to remove seven inches of his oesophagus at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

He said: "I lost five stone because of the treatment, my stomach is in my chest now so I can’t eat as much as I used to eat. I’m walking 10 miles in a weekend, I’m back to normal.

"Everybody from the tea lady to the surgeons and I see Richard my surgeon when I go back for check-ups and he calls my name and I give him the biggest hug and he says ‘John you don’t have to hug me it’s five years ago now’ and I say ‘mate I’m going to hug you every single time I get a chance."

Dr Rachel Orritt, Health Information Manager, Cancer Research UK, said: "In England when diagnosed with oesophageal cancer at the earliest stage, around 9 in 10 people will survive for a year or more and this falls to under 3 in 10 when diagnosed at the latest stage.

"So it’s really important with oesophageal cancer that we have a focus on early diagnosis."

Symptoms of oesophageal cancer include:

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Indigestion or heartburn that doesn't go away

  • Pain in your throat or behind your breastbone

  • Feeling or being sick

Source: NHS/Cancer Research UK

For information, help and support or for more information about the symptoms of oesophageal cancer, you can go to the following websites:

John, who is a father of three has worked with the likes of George Michael, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson.

He now wants to use his profile in the music industry to help raise awareness.

John said: "I’ve worked with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Celine Dion, Boyzone, Tony Di Bart, Aretha Franklin, Gloria Estefan, honestly the list is incredible. I’ve met James Brown. I was the DJ for Wham! back in the 80s.

"I’ve just had some really good well wishes and I’m just trying to pass it on to other people now."

John has now become a mentor to others who have been recently diagnosed, offering hope, which he says is invaluable.

He’s also raising money for Cancer Research UK by hosting networking events and calling on his industry contacts for support.

He said: "If I can get one person to go and see a doctor about a pain he’s had here or whatever and that saves his life then surely that is worthwhile doing."

Five years since his diagnosis, John is now cancer free. He says he owes his life to the NHS and hopes his story can help more people say the same.

John Saunderson has worked with Dizzee Rascal, among many other artists. Credit: John Saunderson

Recent research by scientists in the UK has led to two potentially significant developments in the treatment of oesophageal cancer.

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald and her team of Cancer Research UK scientists have developed a capsule sponge that can be swallowed in the form of a pill on a thread to either detect cancer or a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus that sometimes leads to oesophageal cancer.

This year a trial was launched to see if the test can reduce deaths from this type of cancer and if successful, the capsule sponge could become a national screening programme across the NHS.

Meanwhile, a Cancer Research UK study in Southampton identified that drugs used in Viagra, called PED5 inhibitors, could help make chemotherapy more effective in oesophageal cancer patients.

The early discovery lab research found that when given at the same time, the PDE5 inhibitors help the chemotherapy reach the cancerous tumour more effectively by helping it to penetrate a protective barrier formed by the cancer cells.

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