Beatson trial brings hope for cancer patients

High precision radiation therapy trial results potential ‘game-changer’ for cancer patients

Tuesday 23rd July 2019

A world-wide cancer trial involving the Beatson cancer centre in Glasgow is bringing hope to patients who would once have been considered incurable.

Generally, when a patient has a cancer that has spread to other parts of the body, called metastatic cancer, they are considered incurable, but in the first randomised trial of its kind, researchers at a number of cancer centres across the world have shown that an aggressive form of high-precision radiation therapy can double how long a patient can live without cancer.

The Beatson West of Scotland cancer centre (BWOSCC) has been part of a phase ll clinical trial of the radiation therapy.

Dr Stephen Harrow, Ph.D, a national research Scotland fellow at the Beatson and co-author on the study, said: 

We are very excited about these results and I truly believe it could be a game-changer for many.

Traditionally when a cancer has spread to other organs other than the original site of the disease patients were considered incurable.

However there is a theory called the oligometastatic theory – that if a patient only has a few spots of cancer returning, those spots could be killed with radiation or with surgery to improve their survival.  But this has never been shown in a randomised trial before now.”

This multi-centre trial studied patients with a variety of oligometastatic cancers – those that had been previously treated but then returned in a limited number of other parts of the body including patients at the Beatson.

The patients were treated with stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which is a form of high-precision cancer therapy that delivers substantially higher doses of radiation to the tumour site in just one or a few treatment sessions.

In this open-label study called SABR-COMET 99 patients from Scotland, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia were enrolled in the trial.

Each patient had been treated for cancer but the cancer had returned, with tumours appearing in as many as five different places. All patients had good performance status and a life expectancy of more than six months.

The study was developed by Dr David Palma a clinician-scientist at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research which provided funding for this study, which was recently published in the Lancet.

As a result of Dr Harrow and Dr Palma’s collaboration, the Beatson was the only UK site to open the study.

Dr Harrow added:  “It has been a great opportunity for Scottish patients to take part in this ground breaking clinical trial and now we’ve been able to show that if, indeed, a patient’s cancer has spread to only a few spots, those tumours can be targeted with high-dose radiation which has been shown to increase survival by a median of 13 months.”

One patient who has benefitted from the trial is 83 year old Albert Anderson from Dunure in Ayrshire. Seven years ago he had a cancerous lesion in his windpipe, which was followed three years later by two small tumours in his lung.

Thanks to the trial, my cancer has been completely eradicated. My treatment has been excellent, just excellent. I am still attending Dr Harrow’s clinic firstly every three months and then every six. They now only need to see me back once a year which is good and I feel fine.

I hope the treatment this trial brings become normal for everyone and brings hope to those with secondary cancers.”