Every one of us will face challenges in our lives. We may face difficulties at work, in our personal relationships or with physical or mental health. Few of us have the courage and strength to reach out and help others when we are fighting our own battles. Yet one of my constituents is doing just that.
In 2013, Andrew Scarborough from Ascot, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour at the age of 27. I cannot begin to imagine just how difficult this must have been for him and his family.
Andrew is a talented and admirable young man who is well on his way to a Master’s degree in nutritional therapy and is planning to go on to a career helping others to improve their lives through changing their diets.
Living with brain cancer
As his brain tumour has developed, Andrew has had to deal with the debilitating symptoms that go along with brain cancer. He began to suffer from epilepsy as the tumour started affecting his brain functions and was, at times, unable to leave his bed, such was the pain and fatigue of the disease.
As an expert on nutrition, Andrew was naturally attracted to a trial on ketogenic diets being run at Charing Cross Hospital where he receives treatment. The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein diet high in fats, particularly Omega 3, generally used to tackle epilepsy.
In Andrew’s case, the trial has had a transformative impact. Not only is he now able to function well and has his epilepsy under control, he is also working as a patient adviser on ketogenic diets, helping to implement changes to the way dieticians advise and roll out trials to other patients. He is now raising awareness of the impacts of brain cancer, what brain cancer patients can do and what we as a society can do to support sufferers.
This is exactly what was intended with the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act where clinical trials are embedded into the way that hospitals work so that patients find it easier to participate and try newer treatments that might improve and save lives in the future.
What we can do
There are no easy solutions. Brain cancer is a terrible disease and, currently, incurable. But it is treatable, and Andrew’s example, though one of an ongoing struggle, shows that diagnosis is not the end of life or opportunity.
As a former shadow minister for science, I want to see more well-controlled clinical trials which allow patients, like Andrew, to help provide the robust evidence needed to one day find a better way of treating and curing diseases like brain cancer. The trial that is being carried out expertly by brilliant medical experts at Charing Cross Hospital have contributed to the best survival rates for brain cancer patients in the country. It’s important that the Government, through NICE and the MHRA, looks at the research undertaken at Charing Cross and more generally at the potential applications of metabolic diets for cancer patients as the results come through.
Only through well-controlled trials can we establish a scientific basis for future medical treatments and that’s why it’s so important that we retain the recent changes to care that offers clinical trials to all eligible patients and resist any political game-playing that would endanger this progress.
I also want patients have access to adequate medicine and equipment. Brain cancer is the biggest killer of cancer patients under 40. And yet it is not currently given as much attention and funding as the more well-known forms, such as skin cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer. One particular area of concern is the lack of access to emergency MRI scans, which could save many lives as they demonstrate the most accurate diagnoses. Funding must be allocated rationally, fairly and according to need.
So I’m looking forward to seeing Andrew next month when I’ll be watching a film he’s promoting, along with several long-term cancer survivors, about how we can tackle brain cancer. He is an inspiration to all young people and embodies triumph in adversity.