Cancer Research UK (CRUK) researchers have developed a new treatment for early-stage rectal cancer which they say could provide patients with an improved quality of life.
In a pilot study of the new treatment option, which combines local keyhole surgery and radiotherapy, researchers found that they could prevent debilitating side effects such as diarrhoea and 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 two treatment approaches – 28 received major surgery 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 rest of their rectum and the cancer did not 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 in the early stages, is a major operation to remove the whole rectum. While these major surgeries are effective, they can cause long-term side-effects that can seriously impact quality of life for survivors.
The lead researcher of the study Simon Bach and his team at the University of Birmingham, along with 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 ten weeks later to remove only the part of the rectum affected by cancer.
“We took a lot of inspiration from progress against breast cancer. In the early 90s, most people with breast cancer would have a mastectomy, where the whole breast is removed, as the first part of their treatment,” said Bach.
“But now, due to awareness campaigns, the breast screening programme and new treatments, mastectomy is much rarer. We wanted to test a similar approach for our rectal cancer patients,” he added.