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Many patients lead normal life while fighting disease: expert

Radiotherapy can now be very effective as a result of modern diagnostic techniques

THERE is nothing unusual in cancer patients working throughout their treatment, a leading oncologist has said.

Many patients carry on with daily life as normal despite battling the disease, Prof Michael Moriarty, a consultant radiation oncologist, said yesterday.

He said around half of his patients who may be on both chemotherapy and radiotherapy work during their treatment.

Prof Moriarty, formerly of St Luke's Hospital in Dublin, said a course of radiotherapy which can reduce or eliminate a tumour can be given over five to six weeks, while chemotherapy would be administered over several months.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said he expects to undergo chemotherapy for around six months and will also have to undergo radiotherapy.

Prof Moriarty said radiotherapy can now be very effective as a result of modern diagnostic techniques.

It is also increasingly well tolerated and "any side effects can be looked after".

He added the decision to carry on working while in treatment is a matter of individual judgment.

Mr Lenihan said the tumour cannot be operated on at this stage because it is near a blood vessel, but his doctors have not ruled it out. He has been told there are no secondary cancers.

The minister is among around 370 people in the Republic who will get a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer this year. It mainly affects those between the ages of 60 and 80 years.

The pancreas lies behind the stomach and in front of the spine. It helps to digest food and produce hormones like insulin to control blood sugar levels.

Around 30pc of cases are linked to smoking and genetics play a role in around 10pc of those who develop the illness.

It is difficult to predict exactly what the side effects for an individual patient receiving chemotherapy will be.

For a small number of people there are very few or even no side effects.

Severe side effects include a high temperature, shivering, breathing difficulties, vomiting despite taking anti-sickness medication or bleeding gums.

Mr Lenihan is to cut out most of his public engagements and this is to be advised because chemotherapy can cause a rapid fall in white blood cells, leaving the patient vulnerable to infection.

Fatigue is a common side effect and this is almost inescapable, so it is important to get plenty of rest and not to work the body too hard.

Around 60pc of patients who have chemotherapy will feel sick with nausea but there is medication to control this.

Hair loss is common but not all medications cause this to happen and sometimes the hair becomes thin and brittle rather than falling out.

Radiotherapy is used to treat around 40pc of people with cancer. A patient undergoing radiotherapy can feel tired both during and after treatment.

This fatigue is more common towards the end of the treatment and usually occurs as a result of the body repairing the damage to healthy cells.

Outgoing National Director of Cancer Control Professor Tom Keane has decided that all pancreatic surgery be concentrated in St Vincent's Hospital and no longer spread among six centres.

Asked for a progress report on this yesterday a spokesman for Prof Keane's office said it is continuing to develop and consolidate cancer services nationally.

"We are currently finalising a national plan for pancreatic surgical services," he said.

Irish Independent