John Thaw: Actor dies of ‘difficult’ battle with esophageal cancer – medical condition explained

Along with Morse, Thaw also appeared as Detective Inspector Jack Regan in The Sweeney and James Kavanagh in Kavanagh QC, making him a popular TV show regular. The star also married actress Sheila Hancock in 1973. Shortly after announcing her diagnosis, Thaw added: “I am being treated for esophageal cancer. As soon as this is completed, I plan to return to work. Sheila and I appreciate everyone’s support and understanding, but would now be grateful if our privacy as a family could be respected, especially during my treatment and rehabilitation. return. “

Nasopharyngeal cancer is cancer that develops in the pharynx or head and neck. Specifically, oesophagus is cancer found anywhere in the digestive tract or the food pipe that connects the mouth to the stomach.

Cancer Research UK adds that most head and neck cancers, such as those of the esophagus, are known as squamous cell cancers. These types of cells are flat and skin-like that cover the lining of the mouth, nose, larynx, thyroid gland, and throat.

This type of cancer can spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and is often most noticeable from swelling in this area. As for esophageal cancer, this type of cancer is linked to smoking and alcohol consumption.

Another form of cancer, called adenocarcinoma, is linked to acid reflux. This is a common condition caused by overproduction of acid in the stomach. The constant scarring caused by repeated stomach acid surges can cause cancerous changes in the cells of some people.

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Usually, the first signs and symptoms of throat cancer resemble those of less serious conditions, but people who experience them for a long time – three weeks or more – should see their doctor.

Symptoms of throat cancer may include:

  • Ear hurt
  • Sore throat
  • A lump in the neck
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Change your voice or voice
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling of something stuck in the throat.

Similar, but with some key differences in symptoms, esophageal cancer can primarily affect digestion. As a result, individuals may experience heartburn or acid reflux, indigestion, a constant feeling of sickness, or difficulty swallowing.

Other possible symptoms may include:

  • Cough that doesn’t go away
  • Raucous
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss without trying
  • Feeling tired or having no energy
  • Pain in the throat or middle of the chest, especially when swallowing
  • Dark poo
  • Hemoptisi.


The condition affects about 9,272 people each year, with 7,990 deaths from the disease. One reason for this is that treatments are being developed that can cure the condition.

Currently, to detect the condition, individuals will need to have a test known as a gastroscopy. This involves inserting a camera into the mouth and down the esophagus.

A camera will be used to look for any problems and a small sample of cells may be taken for a biopsy. These cells are then sent and tested to see if they are cancerous. If diagnosed with cancer, individuals may need other tests such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or minor surgery to look inside the stomach, called laparoscopy.

Like many other cancers, doctors will use a grade to try and get an idea of ​​how the cancer will work and what the individual may need treatment for. The grades of cancer cells are from one to three:

  1. The first layer (lower level) looks the most like normal cells
  2. Second grade looks a bit like normal cells
  3. The third (high-grade) layer looks very abnormal and doesn’t look like normal cells.

The NHS explains that if esophageal cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it can be cured with surgery to remove the affected part of the esophagus and chemotherapy, with or without radiation (chemotherapy), to destroy it. cancer cells and shrink tumors.

However, if esophageal cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, a cure may not be achieved. In these cases, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy may be used to help control the cancer and relieve any symptoms.

Back in 2020, Professor Wasat Mansoor – consultant on medical oncology at Christie’s NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and lead investigator on the UK trial – spoke of how the study had failed improved survival rates for this type of cancer over the past 40 years, but how a new study at the time was set to change this.

At the time, an international study discovered a “big, big change”. This was 10 times as many patients living for two years on a new immunotherapy drug, called pembrolizumab, as those receiving standard chemotherapy.

Additionally, the results of the June 2021 “CheckMate 648” study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) conference, reported the benefits of immunotherapy treatments. for advanced esophageal squamous cell carcinoma – an incurable condition.

Royal Marsden reported at the time that 970 patients were randomized to receive immunotherapy and chemotherapy, two immunotherapy drugs, or chemotherapy alone. The trial showed that patients treated on the two arms of immunotherapy had a significantly better survival rate than those who received chemotherapy alone.

Dr Ian Chau, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden and Reader at the Institute of Cancer Research, presented the CheckMate 648 study data at ASCO, saying at the time: “Decades later: Using chemotherapy for esophageal cancer, this research has made little progress. found not one but two new treatment options using immunotherapy to prolong the lives of patients with this incurable disease. Clinically significant improvements in survival of the two treatment regimens highlight the impact of immunotherapy on cancer care and will provide new treatment options for a group of patients. Patients are usually diagnosed when the disease has spread. ”

Following Thaw’s death, Hancock released a statement through a family friend, referring to the deaths of her late husbands. It said: “We have all been grateful for the thousands of letters and messages from people wishing him well. Everyone, including the media, has been amazing during this difficult time and I want them all to know how much their support and understanding means to him and to him. All of us. ”

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