Radiotherapy is the ‘Cinderella’ of cancer treatments. Although it’s not suitable for all types of cancer, more than four out of ten patients in the UK receive radiotherapy at some point – whether for treatment or to relieve symptoms.
Yet while surgery, where suitable, is often the first-line treatment, and anti-cancer drugs grab the headlines, radiotherapy is an unsung hero of cancer care.
The PARSPORT Trial
Today at the NCRI Cancer Conference, Dr Chris Nutting presented early results from a Cancer Research UK-funded radiotherapy trial called PARSPORT, run by The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden Hospital. Here’s a short video about the research.
The trial was testing a new technique for giving radiotherapy to people with head and neck cancer called intensity modulated radiotherapy, or IMRT. Since it allows doctors to more accurately target a patient’s tumour, IMRT helps to avoid damage to the salivary glands – a common side effect of radiotherapy to the head, which can cause serious problems with speech and eating, as well as increasing the chance of mouth ulcers and infections.
The results of the trial are impressive. The researchers found that after 12 months, only 39 per cent of the 94 patients who had the new treatment suffered from dry mouth compared to 74 per cent who had the traditional treatment – a dramatic improvement in the quality of life for patients, compared to those receiving standard radiotherapy.
Trials of IMRT for treating various other cancers are currently under way, including a number funded by Cancer Research UK (such as COSTAR). The technique is being adopted by an increasing number of radiotherapy centres around the UK, as new equipment becomes available, so more and more patients should be able to benefit from it.
Giving radiotherapy a boost
Until a few years ago, little research was done in radiotherapy since, unlike drug trials (often bankrolled by pharmaceutical companies) there was little financial incentive. But alongside technical advances, the UK cancer community recognised the importance of researching radiotherapy – and the need to do even more.
As part of our five-year strategy, we will be putting more research investment into radiotherapy. We already fund plenty of research at the Cancer Research UK/MRC Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology in Oxford – the largest radiotherapy research facility in Europe – as well as the work of scientists and doctors across the UK. Together they are working to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of the treatment.
Radiotherapy has already made a big impact on cancer survival in the UK – thanks in part to work we’re supporting. And in the future, we hope our investment will lead to more lives saved, with fewer side effects.
You can read more about the trial in our press release.
Warren kearns November 7, 2009
How about Proton Beam Therapy. We urgently need this in the UK, my son had to travel to Switzerland for 2 months for PBT on a skull base primary tumour, his only treatment was intensive chemotherapy and 72 gray PBT , he has so far had no reoccurances and very little side effects. We need easier access to this treatment here, either referrals to centres abroad or our own PBT facility
Kat Arney November 9, 2009
We’re pleased to hear about the progress your son has made, and wish him the best with his recovery.
Here in the UK, plans are being made to provide Proton Beam Therapy. In August this year it was announced that England would take steps towards introducing the technique, as part of the National Cancer Plan (more info here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article6799483.ece). Proton beam therapy is available at Clatterbridge, on the Wirral, but this is the only facility currently available in the UK, and it is only suitable for treating a small range of cancer types. And the NHS pays for patients to have treatment in centres outside the UK.
Cancer Research UK has recognised that more research needs to be done into radiotherapy techniques for treating cancer, including proton therapy – something that we have highlighted in our research strategy. For example, our researchers at the Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology in Oxford are working on the latest advances in radiotherapy, which will lead to improvements in treatment for people with cancer. There’s more about our radiotherapy research here: http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerandresearch/ourcurrentresearch/topic/RadiotherapyResearch/index.htm
Robert McAllister November 6, 2009
Having undergone radiotherapy treatment for oral cancer and having the side effects associated with dry mouth I am delighted that research has found a way to reduce the damage to the salivary glands. Although too late to help me it is encouraging to know that the small amount of money I give monthly is helping to leviate the suffering of cancer patients through continued research. Keep up the excellent work.
Kat Arney November 6, 2009
Thanks for your comment and your support, Robert!