Alps trek to raise cancer awareness

Dunedin Hospital oncologist Dr Sharon Pattison with her running shoes. Dr Pattison is preparing...
Dunedin Hospital oncologist Dr Sharon Pattison with her running shoes. Dr Pattison is preparing to walk 70km across the Southern Alps. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Bowel cancer is the gastrointestinal cancer most commonly diagnosed - but an oncologist and cancer researcher wants to raise awareness of a number of other potentially deadly forms.

University of Otago department of medicine senior lecturer and oncologist at Dunedin Hospital Dr Sharon Pattison is dusting off her sneakers and preparing to walk the Gutsy Challenge - a 70km trek across the Southern Alps - in November.

"Some of it is a little off the beaten track.''

The walk would take her to some "pretty cool places'' and the longest day would be an 18km stretch.

"When you look at the terrain itself, it is amazing.''

She was training for both distance and altitude by climbing Dunedin's Mt Cargill, and she was also walking the Outram Glen to Lee Stream track.

Gastrointestinal cancers could include bowel cancer, oesophageal cancer, cancers of the small and large intestines, and cancers of the liver, pancreas and gallbladder.

"If you combine them all together, they are probably more common than breast and prostate cancer.''

Cancer became more and more common as people grew older - but she treated patients aged anywhere between 20 and 90 years old. Dr Pattison said pancreatic cancer came in two forms - and one of the most deadly cancers was pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

Someone whose cancer was caught at stage four of that illness would have a less than 5% chance of living for five years after their diagnosis.

"Some of the survival for people with these cancers can be really quite dismal.''

Gastrointestinal cancers could be symptomless for a long time, with no visible lumps as might be seen with other forms of cancer.

She particularly wanted to raise money so the hospital could hold more clinical trials, which cost money to open and run - including staff costs.

Dr Pattison said the best preventive measures for gastrointestinal cancer were exercising, doing 30 minutes of moderate activity five times a week, cutting out smoking and alcohol consumption, and eating a healthy, balanced diet with no processed smallgoods such as bacon - which were known carcinogens.

Other oncologists from around the country and Australia were taking part in the walk, including doctors from Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Adelaide.

"There's still space for more people to join us if they would like.''

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