HE often finds himself telling his patients that having surgery to remove oesophageal cancer is like running a marathon without training.

So inspired by this and in honour of his patients Southampton surgeon Tim Underwood and his team are embarking on their own cancer marathon to help fund vital research that could soon be saving lives.

With latest figures showing a worrying increase in the number of people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer the team from Southampton General Hospital knows it is more important than ever to take action.

They are under no illusions that tackling the New York marathon is going to be the toughest challenge they have ever faced – but they know that it will be nothing compared to the trauma endured by their patients.

Mr Underwood, an oesophageal surgeon and researcher at the University of Southampton, said: “We will spend six to nine months training for our run but we know that however hard it is we will recover. For patients with oesophageal cancer the future is far less certain.”

Their decision to dust off their trainers comes as latest figures from Cancer Research UK reveal that men are three times more likely to get oesophageal cancer than women – one of the biggest gender gaps in cancer rates.

In Southampton the rates have increased by ten per cent over the last 25 years – 14 per cent in men and two per cent in women.

There are two main types of oesophageal cancer, adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas.

Obesity, tobacco and long term acid reflux increase the risk of adenocarcinoma, while tobacco, alcohol and a diet low in fruit are the most common risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma. And these Cancer Research UK statistics show that, in England, adenocarcinomas in men have been rising steadily from 1,600 cases in 1997 to over 3000 cases in 2010.

Mr Underwood said: “These figures show a worrying number of oesophageal cancers being diagnosed each year, particularly among men. “Diagnosing the disease earlier is key to improving the chances of survival.

“If left untreated acid reflux – often called heartburn – can damage cells of the oesophagus leading to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which in turn can be a precursor of oesophageal cancer.”

So with a target of £100,000, the team aims to donate that to Cancer Research UK’s Catalyst Club – a team of British scientists who are leading a research project into unravelling the genetic code of the disease which would lead to new tests, treatments and better survival rates.

The team includes consultant cardiologist Drew Rakhit, consultant surgeon Jim Byrne, consultant surgeon Jamie Kelly and Mike Grocott, a consultant in critical care medicine.

Donna Sharland, an oesophageal and gastric cancer nurse at Southampton General Hospital, who won the Daily Echo’s Hospital Heroes award this year, is also part of the marathon team.

She added: “Every day I ask people to give far more than they ever thought they could, so I feel it is my turn to step out of the comfort zone and push myself to see how much reserve I have.

“My patients don’t have the luxury of being able to stay in their comfort zone. They have to trust me and the team and dig in for the hard slog.”

To donate visit http://www. justgiving.com/TheCancer Marathon.