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Groundbreaking brain cancer radiotherapy trial launched

Published: 21 February 2024

A more targeted form of radiotherapy, currently only available to a small number of UK patients, will be trialled to see if it causes fewer long-term side effects than standard radiotherapy. 

The £1.5m clinical trial, called APPROACH*, is funded by an NIHR and Medical Research Council (MRC) partnership - and led by researchers at the University of Leeds.

Experts will recruit patients with a type of brain cancer called oligodendroglioma. This form of cancer is diagnosed in around 350 patients in the UK each year.

The trial will determine whether proton beam therapy can reduce the long-term side effects of radiotherapy. The technology uses a beam of highly charged proton particles found inside every atom to destroy cancer cells. It works by releasing a powerful burst of energy at the tumour site. It delivers less radiation to the surrounding normal tissues and so can help to reduce side effects. 

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

Huge impact

The trial is co-led by Dr Louise Murray, a Yorkshire Cancer Research-funded Associate Professor. 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.”

Recruiting in 2024

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.”

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

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 5 years after treatment. It is hoped the results will lead to improved care and outcomes for brain cancer patients and help inform treatment of other cancers in future.

The APPROACH trial team has worked closely with brain tumour patients and their relatives  to design the trial. Also involved in the trial’s design are staff from:

  • the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester 
  • University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • 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. 

The study is funded by the Efficacy Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme - an NIHR and MRC partnership.

Read more about APPROACH on the study’s project page.

*APPROACH: Analysis of Proton versus Photon Radiotherapy in Oligodendroglioma and Assessment of Cognitive Health.

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