Life-changing research continues at Royal Surrey | News

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Life-changing research continues at Royal Surrey

CLose up of surgeon's hands wearing gloves

This year the research community came together to focus their efforts on beating Covid-19. But what happened to non-Covid-19 medical studies?

Clinical trials are an essential part of medical research and patient care. Each year thousands of patients take part in life-changing trials at Royal Surrey.

Studies focus on improving treatment for patients with conditions including cancer, diabetes, digestive disorders, serious eye conditions and other surgically led studies. However, this year, in all hospitals, many trials not investigating Covid-19 had to be paused when the pandemic hit. This helped to protect participants from contracting the virus while visiting hospital sites as part of their study.

But Royal Surrey is a large referral centre for cancer patients and vital clinical trials providing novel treatments have continued despite the pandemic. These include investigations to improve the swallowing function of cancer patients following throat-surgery.

Patients with oropharyngeal cancer – which affects the throat, tonsils and back of the tongue – often undergo surgery to remove the cancer-causing human papillomavirus ( HPV) virus from their throat. In many cases, surgery is followed by radiotherapy or radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy.

A common side effect is a change in patients’ ability to swallow properly, which can be permanent. And around one in 10 patients will have to use a feeding tube for many months or even years after treatment has finished.

The PATHOS study, led by researchers at Cardiff University, is investigating whether reducing the intensity of the surgery and follow-up treatment can improve patients’ ability to swallow, without compromising the success of the cancer treatment. 

Royal Surrey is one of 38 sites across the globe taking part in the study.

The first participant joined the trial in 2015 and there are now 446 people enrolled across all sites. Researchers aim to recruit 1,100 patients internationally before 2022.

This year researchers in Royal Surrey’s Oncology Division have already enlisted more patients than their 2020 recruitment target, despite being unable to recruit between March and August due to Covid-19. They have recruited more participants than any other site this year, and the team have hopes to recruit more people by the end of December. Marie-Claire Flavin, Radiation Oncology Research Team Leader, said:

“This is important research to ease recovery from aggressive cancer treatment. A healthy swallowing function is something most of us take for granted. However, once taken away, it has big impact on quality of life , particularly for the 10 per cent of patients who require a tube to feed themselves.

“We are one of the few sites to have recruited trial participants each month that we have been open for recruitment. We have very proactive patients who are keen to help improve treatment for others with their condition and we are hugely grateful to them for doing so.”

As part of the study, all participants will have an operation to remove the cancer from their throat.Depending on their surgical response, the research team will allocate them into one of three groups for follow-up: no further treatment, radiotherapy alone, and radiotherapy with chemotherapy.

The research team hopes the findings will help clinicians to personalise post-operative treatment based on the size and stage of cancer in their throat.

Clinicians will review participants in 2026 and the trial hopes to publish in 2027.

More information about PATHOS: Post-operative adjuvant treatment for HPV-positive tumours is available on the Cancer Research UK website.

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