Brain cancer radiotherapy trial explores use of ‘vital’ technology

A more targeted form of radiotherapy is being trialled to find out if it causes fewer long-term side effects in brain cancer patients

Published: 03 April 2024 Radiotherapy

The University of Leeds is trialling the use of proton beam therapy for brain cancer to find out if the more targeted form of radiotherapy will cause fewer side effects.

Patients with a form of brain cancer called oligodendroglioma, which is diagnosed in around 350 patients in the UK per year, will be recruited to undergo proton beam therapy.

The trial, which runs from June 2021 until June 2031, seeks to determine whether this form of therapy can reduce the long-term side effects of radiotherapy. The University of Leeds is now sharing details as they have finished recruiting patients. 

Proton beam therapy uses a beam of highly charged proton particles, found inside every atom, to destroy cancer cells.

By delivering one powerful burst of energy at the tumour site, it can in theory deliver less radiation to the surrounding normal tissues and so reduce side effects.

'The best possible future'

The trial will also look at whether the treatment improves quality of life for patients, as compared to the standard radiotherapy currently used globally.

Those taking part will receive either standard radiotherapy, or proton beam therapy, so side effects can be compared. The trial will follow up with patients to assess side effects, quality of life and survival rates for five years after treatment.

Dr Louise Murray, an associate professor funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, is co-lead on the trial.

She said: “We really need to know if this new technique can help reduce damage to the healthy brain tissue that surrounds a cancerous tumour, so that fewer patients have their lives affected by cognitive problems, such as difficulties with memory and processing information. Problems like these can have a huge impact on daily life.

“This trial is vital to determine how we can use radiotherapy treatments appropriately, to give patients the best possible future.”

'A major milestone'

The £1.5m clinical trial is called the Analysis of Proton versus Photon Radiotherapy in Oligodendroglioma and Assessment of Cognitive Health (APPROACH).

APPROACH is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research and the Medical Research Council partnership, the Efficacy Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme. 

The trial is being led by researchers at the University of Leeds (UoL).

The trial will be open to up to 18 recruiting cancer centres across the UK. Currently, patients are being recruited in:

  • Leeds
  • Manchester
  • Oxford
  • London
  • Cambridge
  • Kent

Professor Nick Lemoine CBE, Medical Director of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said: “The launch of proton beam therapy in the UK is a major milestone in cancer care, but we need evidence for how best it can be used and that can only come from high quality clinical trials such as APPROACH.”

Also involved in the trial’s design are staff from: the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester; University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; and the Leeds Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit.

The National Cancer Research Institute Clinical Trials Radiotherapy Research Working Group (CTRad) also provided expert support and guidance to ensure efficiency and quality.

(Image via the NIHR)