Heart specialist

Cardiologist treated for rare cancer

Cardiologist Malcolm Legget, who is diagnosed with cancer, will tour the country by bicycle. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Cancer survivor Malcolm Legget wants treatment for rare tumors to be available in New Zealand.

Auckland cardiologist Malcolm Legget considers himself lucky to be alive more than three years after being diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.

“Normal pancreatic cancer that has spread to the liver is virtually fatal within months,” said Dr. Legget.

But it’s a rare type of pancreatic cancer caused by neuroendocrine tumors or NETs, ​​the same disease that killed Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

NETs affect cells in the neuroendocrine system that controls the body’s production of hormones. Cancer was diagnosed in 2011 after seeing a general practitioner for upper abdominal pain, extreme fatigue, and irritable bowel symptoms.

A specialist referred him to a cancer center in Melbourne where he underwent a CT scan and some form of radiation therapy, none of which is provided in New Zealand. He said the response of the tumors to treatment had been “superb”. All of the cancerous lesions in her pancreas and adjacent lymph nodes had “essentially disappeared”. He still had liver damage, but there was less in February than a year earlier.

“I feel extremely blessed. I am fortunate to be alive. I have gone from thinking I had months living to now looking forward to many years,” said the 52-year-old, married and father of three children aged 14 to 20. .

District health boards are sending patients to Australia for the type of test he underwent in Melbourne – which uses a radioactive isotope not available in the New Zealand health system – but only if their disease is potentially curable by surgery. Dr Legget now chairs the Unicorn Foundation charity, to educate and support people with NETs. An avid cyclist, he and 30 others hope to raise $ 400,000 riding from Cape Reinga to Wellington in seven days, starting Saturday.

Make a donation, Click here.

The foundation, which is in talks with DHB and private healthcare group Mercy Ascot, aims to help produce the radioactive isotope gallium 68 for PET scans, which show whether a patient is likely to benefit radiation therapy received by Dr. Legget. .

He said it would cost around $ 300,000 to produce gallium-68 for two years – enough to provide CT scans for around 100 patients.

Northern Regional Cancer Network director Dr Richard Sullivan said area DHBs, Mercy Ascot and the foundation “were looking for an opportunity to provide this technology locally.”

What is NET cancer?
• A group of slow growing cancers caused by neuroendocrine tumors (NETs).
NETs can be malignant (cancerous) or benign, although it is believed that benign will eventually become cancerous.

• The neuroendocrine system, which controls the production of hormones, is made up of nerve and glandular cells.

• The main sites for NETs are the pancreas, liver, lungs, esophagus, stomach and intestines.

• The first symptoms can often include flushing, high blood pressure, low blood sugar and diarrhea.

• In more than half of cases, the tumor has spread before diagnosis.

• Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, synthetic hormones, and radiation therapy.

• 350 new cases each year.

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