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Personalised radiotherapy treatment set to benefit from CERN software

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by Cancer Research UK | News

29 April 2013

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A collaboration of scientific disciplines is developing pioneering software to design radiotherapy tailored to individual patients, as part of a new Cancer Research UK study.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have recruited their first patients onto the VoxTox clinical study – an exciting project to test computer programmes that track how organs move between radiotherapy sessions to minimise any possible damage to healthy tissue.

The technology has previously been used by the Cavendish Laboratory as part of their work with CERN – the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.

Radiotherapists, physicists and engineers are working together to try and improve treatment for cancer patients. And this week they begin recruiting up to 1500 patients with three different tumour types – prostate cancer, head and neck cancers and cancers of the central nervous system – to help refine the software and test whether it could help limit damage to healthy tissue.

Research shows that organs like the prostate can move by up to two centimetres between radiotherapy sessions, resulting in damage to the surrounding healthy tissues that can result in lasting side effects, such as chronic diarrhoea and problems passing urine. It’s hoped the new software will help limit this, by providing a clearer picture of exactly how much radiation is reaching the healthy tissues.

Chief investigator Professor Neil Burnet, a radiotherapy expert based at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, said: “The new software we’re developing will help tailor radiotherapy to the individual, minimising the side effects patients experience after treatment.  This is particularly crucial for prostate, brain and head and neck cancers, which have important parts of the body nearby that could easily be damaged.


“The most sophisticated radiotherapy machines aim to minimise damage to the surrounding tissues by using daily imaging combined with a type of 3D radiotherapy, called intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), which helps shape the radiotherapy beam to the tumour. But even these rely on still images of patients’ internal organs and, until now, there’s been no way of monitoring in real time the actual dose to the surrounding tissues.”

Dr David Scott, Cancer Research UK’s director of science funding, said: “This is a great example of how drawing on scientists from different disciplines – in this case particle physics and engineering – can bring about unparalleled progress in cancer treatment. Radiotherapy forms a critical part of treatment for around half of all cancer patients, so it’s vital we find ways of targeting tumours more precisely to limit the damage that can lead to long term side effects.”

The VoxTox Clinical Study is part of the larger over-arching VoxTox Programme, funded by Cancer Research UK, which brings together clinicians and scientists from oncology, radiotherapy physics, endocrinology, the Department of Engineering and the Cavendish Laboratory. The concept for the Programme was jointly conceived by Dr Raj Jena and Prof Neil Burnet.

Further details of the Clinical Study and the VoxTox Programme, including a link to be added to a mailing list, can be found at


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