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Guy’s and St Thomas’ announces new ‘world-leading’ head and neck cancer centre

A six million donation from a former patient is funding a new, world-class head and neck Cancer Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’. 

Announced on Tuesday, July 16 – World Head and Neck Cancer Day – the new centre aims to transform care for patients with these lesser known but complex conditions.

Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer globally, with more than 650,000 people diagnosed each year. In the UK, that equates to around 1,000 people receiving a new diagnosis each month.  Eating, speaking and breathing problems are common.

It is hoped the Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre will speed up diagnosis, improve treatments, minimise side effects for patients and reduce rates of recurrence. 

The centre has been made possible due to a donation from Charles Wilson and Dr Rowena Olegario from Wilson + Olegario Philanthropy. 

Charles is the former chief executive officer of Booker, which is part of Tesco Plc, and was treated for neck cancer by a team from Guy’s Cancer three years ago.

Wilson + Olegario Philanthropy are long-term funders for head and neck cancer research, and have committed six million toward the new centre. 

Charles says: “It’s a privilege to be supporting the launch of the new Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre. 

“The team at Guy’s are amazing. The treatments they perform and the research they do is ground-breaking. 

“The new centre will help transform the detection and treatment of head and neck cancers as well as improve the quality of life for patients – something which is urgently needed.

“In a year when the NHS did such a good job of looking after the nation, and where Guy’s Cancer continued treating patients, it is a privilege to support the hospital at this time. 

“I look forward to seeing the impact for both the local community, people across the UK and even around the world.”

Naema Abubakar, from Elephant and Castle, was diagnosed with extremely rare nasopharyngeal cancer in August 2018. She was just 23 and studying at London South Bank University.

She had been suffering with a persistent blocked nose and heavy nose bleeds. Around a year after first developing these symptoms she was hospitalised after coughing up blood and referred to a specialist, before receiving her cancer diagnosis. 

Naema Abubakar, who was diagnosed with a rare form of head and neck cancer, from Elephant and Castle, outside Guy’s Cancer Centre

Now 26, she remembers: “It was such a huge shock. I just didn’t think that cancer would affect someone like me. 

“Even though I’d been experiencing problems for over a year, the diagnosis felt like it came out of nowhere.”

She was given chemotherapy, radiotherapy and had to have ten teeth removed. 

“Everyone who helped care for me did so sensitively and professionally, but also in the quickest possible time,” she says.

“Nobody made me feel like my condition was incurable and I felt like I was in the safest possible hands.

“After the radiotherapy I was unable to open my mouth so I couldn’t talk and had to be fed through a tube. I lost a lot of weight, going down to 45kg, and parts of my hair began to fall out.”

During this time she was supported by a dietitian, had specialised therapy and joined a support group for other young people who had cancer.

“I can’t put into words how much all of the extra support helped me. Meeting other young people who were going through similar things helped to normalise my situation and made me feel less alone,” she says.

“I am still friends with a lot of those I met through the support group.”

Naema, during her treatment

 Naema continued to study and after graduating from university with a first class degree, she is now in remission.

She currently works as a student advisor and was recently accepted to study a masters in Environment Data Science and Machine Learning at Imperial College London.

“None of this would have been possible without the care me and my whole family received,” she says.

“I will be eternally grateful for everything they’ve given me.”

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity, which raises funds for the trust, is hoping to raise a further £5 million toward the project.

Dr Teresa Guerrero Urbano, consultant clinical oncologist, highlights that these types of cancers receive far less funding despite having some of the most visible impacts on patients.

“Diagnosis with any cancer can be life-changing,” she says. 

“But people with head and neck cancer face treatment that can impact some of the most fundamental aspects of their life – breathing, speaking and eating.

“It’s a cancer which few people are aware of, and that receives less funding for research, but it’s also a cancer where investment could make a significant difference. 

“That’s why we’re urgently seeking philanthropic support. And every stride we make in head and neck cancers could have ripple effects for other cancers too.”

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