Cancer Research UK this week launches a new trial for patients with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver to see whether a new radiotherapy treatment technique is more effective than standard chemotherapy.

Researchers at trial centres across the UK and coordinated at Oxford University will test a new treatment called Radio-embolisation, a form of internal radiotherapy that uses the tumour’s blood supply to target multiple sites of disease within the liver. They will combine this new treatment with standard chemotherapy in patients recently diagnosed with bowel cancer that has spread to the liver.

The first patient will start the treatment this week at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford.

Despite major advances in treating advanced bowel cancer, the number of patients who survive beyond five years remains disappointingly low – less than 10 per cent.

The trial – called FOXFIRE and funded by Cancer Research UK and by Sirtex Medical Ltd.– aims to recruit almost 500 patients in the UK with advanced bowel cancer. The results are being combined with an international study called SIRFLOX, meaning that over 800 patients will be studied worldwide.

The patients will be divided into two groups at random. One group will receive chemotherapy plus Radio-embolisation and the other will receive chemotherapy alone.

Dr Ricky Sharma, the chief investigator from the Cancer Research UK and Medical Research Council Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology at the University of Oxford, said: “Although we now have several new ways of treating bowel cancer which has spread to the liver, we are keen to develop other novel techniques to improve treatment.

“What is exciting about this new technique is that we know that radiotherapy works well in treating bowel cancer and this new way of administering high-dose radiation therapy directly into the blood supply of the cancer appears to be effective when we combine it with chemotherapy.

“We are hoping that this national trial will tell us whether this new form of radiotherapy, when combined with standard chemotherapy, improves the outcome for individual patients.”

More than 37,500 cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year making it the third most common cancer in the UK.

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, said: “Without clinical trials like FOXFIRE, we wouldn’t be able to improve techniques for cancers that are hard to treat. It’s a promising trial and we look forward to following its progress and seeing the results.”


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  1. Trial centres are located across the UK and are now recruiting patients – for more information visit the The Oncology Clinical Trials Office website
  2. Radio-embolisation (also known as Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, or SIRT) takes advantage of the leaky and immature blood vessels in cancers to deliver a high dose of radiotherapy to primary liver cancer or other cancers that have spread to the liver. The radioactive particles (called SIR-spheres microspheres) are tiny polymer beads that are delivered directly into and around each tumour via a catheter tube inserted into the patient’s groin and then passed up, under X-ray guidance, into the blood supply of the liver.

    The radiotherapy delivered is a very high dose which travels only about 2-3 mm within liver tissues. No other types of radiation are emitted by the microspheres, so there is minimal risk to other organs of the patient’s body. Since radiotherapy works very differently from chemotherapy, this treatment often works even when cancers have become resistant to chemotherapy.

    The FOXFIRE clinical trial aims to see if giving chemotherapy and radio-embolisation together when cancer is first detected in the liver is better than the current standard therapy, i.e. using chemotherapy alone.

  3. Supported by the Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK
  4. More information about bowel cancer on our patient information website, CancerHelp UK