New early-stage rectal cancer treatment by Cancer Research UK

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) researchers have developed a replacement treatment for early-stage rectal cancer which they assert could provide patients with an improved quality of life.

In a pilot study of the new treatment option, which mixes local keyhole surgery and radiotherapy, researchers found that they might prevent debilitating side effects like diarrhoea and therefore the need for a permanent colostomy bag.

This study, dubbed TREC, enrolled 123 patients with early-stage rectal cancer, with 61 patients receiving the newly-developed treatment approach.

In addition, 55 patients were randomised to 2 treatment approaches – 28 received operation and 27 received the new organ preserving treatment.

Within the patient population who received the new treatment, 70% were treated successfully, meaning their tumour was removed while preserving the remainder of their rectum and therefore the cancer didn’t return during the three to five-year follow-up period.

Patients who received the new treatment also reported better quality of life three years after treatment.

Standard treatment for rectal cancer, even within the early stages, may be a major operation to get rid of the entire rectum. While these major surgeries are effective, they will cause long-term side-effects which will seriously impact quality of life for survivors.

The lead researcher of the study Simon Bach and his team at the University of Birmingham, along side collaborators at the University of Leeds, developed the new treatment approach, called ‘organ preservation’.

This newly-developed treatment option uses radiotherapy followed by local keyhole surgery eight to 10 weeks later to get rid of only the a part of the rectum suffering from cancer.

“We took tons of inspiration from progress against carcinoma . within the early 90s, most of the people with carcinoma would have a mastectomy, where the entire breast is removed, because the first a part of their treatment,” said Bach.

“But now, thanks to awareness campaigns, the breast screening programme and new treatments, mastectomy is far rarer. We wanted to check an identical approach for our rectal cancer patients,” he added.

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