A man from Greater Manchester, who had less than 12 months to live is now clear of cancer, and back at work, thanks to a clinical trial at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
Robert Glynn, 51, a welder from Worsley, went to his doctor with a severe pain in his shoulder which meant he couldn’t sleep. Despite scans and blood tests, the cancer was only detected by chance when he got an infection in his gall bladder. In August, in the middle of the pandemic and the day before his 49th birthday, he got the devastating news that he had intrahepatic bile duct cancer (cancer that forms in the bile ducts inside the liver). Also known as biliary tract cancer, it is a rare cancer with a poor prognosis and few treatment options. Only around 1,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with this type of disease each year and only around 5% of people live for five years or more after diagnosis.
Robert’s cancer was at an advanced stage and it was in his liver and had spread to his adrenal gland. He was referred to The Christie, a leading cancer centre in Manchester, and was offered the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. His tumour sample was sent off for molecular analysis, to check for any alterations in his tumour, and it was found that his tumour had a high mutation burden (large numbers of genetic mutations in the cells), indicating that he may potentially have a good response to immunotherapy. Based on these results, a clinical trial with an immunotherapy drug, which is already approved for use in some other cancers including lung, kidney and oesophageal cancer, combined with the standard chemotherapy was recommended. The treatment was administered intravenously. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the body’s immune system fight cancer.
The immunotherapy treatment together with chemotherapy helped shrink the tumour in his liver and adrenal gland from 12cm and 7cm to just 2.6cm and 4.1cm respectively, which meant Robert was able to have surgery in April this year. Only ‘dead tissue’ was found during surgery which showed the treatment killed off all the cancer cells. Since the operation, Robert hasn’t needed any more treatment and his three-monthly scans show he’s clear of cancer. But he will continue to be monitored.
Oncologists worldwide are eagerly awaiting the results of this research, and a further study with more patients, as it could lead to a change in the treatment of biliary tract cancer.
Manchester United fan Robert Glynn, who enjoys snooker, golf and fishing said: “I wouldn’t be here today without the trial. When I was given the option to take part in research, I jumped at the chance. You do anything you can to extend your life. I also changed my diet completely as I was 16 stone, so quite over-weight. I cut out all processed foods, refined sugar, dairy and milk and now have a smoothie every day and lots of organic fruit and vegetables and make everything from scratch. I managed to lose five stone, which was a big step for me. I realised you can’t just rely on the doctors to help you. You need to help yourself too. It’s also important to remain positive and not give up. It’s never over until it’s over.
“I feel very lucky as I had the cancer for two years and had no idea. I’ve been healthy all my working life. I’m told the shoulder pain is a common symptom of this type of cancer as the pain is caused by the tumour pressing on a nerve. Getting the all-clear was overwhelming. In an odd kind of way having the diagnosis has turned my life around. With my partner, Simone, we get out in nature and walk loads. When something like this happens you realise life is for living.”
This clinical trial was run by Professor Juan Valle, consultant oncologist at The Christie and a world-leading expert in biliary tract cancer. He said: “Adding immunotherapy to chemotherapy when patients are first diagnosed with biliary tract cancer has been shown to boost survival. Robert has done very well on this combination, due to his tumour having a ‘high mutation burden’ or a high number of genetic mutations. Most patients with this diagnosis do not have as many mutations in their cancer cells, so the treatment won’t be as effective, but it does highlight the importance of personalised medicine. The results of this research, and another larger study, are keenly anticipated by colleagues worldwide as it could lead to a change in how we treat patients like Robert in the future.”
Any patients interested in taking part in clinical trials should discuss this option with their consultant or GP. Not all patients will fit the criteria for a specific trial. While clinical trials can be successful for some patients, outcomes can vary from case to case.