For National Cancer Survivors Day on 5 June, our colleagues in the living with and beyond cancer (LWBC) teams at The Christie and The University of Manchester are highlighting a few of the projects being carried out in this research area.
Many years of work on cancer treatments have focused on improving survival and patients are now living significantly longer after diagnosis. In Manchester, the latest data show that 72% of patients live at least a year after diagnosis, compared to 57% 20 years ago. With this success, our research has started to expand beyond traditional boundaries.
We want people to live the best life possible after their treatment has finished. This means understanding more about the significant, sometimes life-changing, new problems patients may develop because of their treatment.
It is now just over a year since the launch of The Christie centre for living with and beyond cancer which has bought these teams together under one umbrella to learn from each another and collaborate further. The centre, led by Professor John Radford, focuses on 3 key LWBC areas: new/second cancers (led by Dr Kim Linton), heart disease (led by Dr Chris Miller) and bone and muscle complications (led by Dr Claire Higham).
Clinical colleagues and physicists are working together to reduce the long-term side-effects from radiation treatment in children, teenagers and young adults. Modern radiotherapy is very accurate and uses advanced methods to kill cancer. However, several different side-effects can still occur.
Dr Marianne Aznar says: “We are trying to reduce the risk of radiation treatments causing new cancers. We also aim to understand more about how radiation damages growing bones and the brain (causing problems in later life) or increases the risk of arm and shoulder problems after treatment for breast cancer”.
Dr Claire Higham is also looking at the long-term effects of different cancer treatments on bones. Her work is focused on bone strength and risk of breaks in bones. The aim is to identify groups of patients who are at most risk and to find treatments that can help make bones stronger and prevent fractures from happening.
Another area of research focuses on chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines and their effect on the heart. They can cause the heart muscle to pump less efficiently following treatment, leading to heart failure in a small number of patients. However, as these drugs are extremely effective in the treatment of several types of cancer, such as lymphoma and breast cancer, it is important that we find strategies to detect and manage heart failure.
Dr Rohan Shotton says: “At present we do not have a reliable blood test to tell us that a patient is at risk of developing heart failure, and we don’t understand how this process occurs. By looking at the proteins which change in heart muscle during treatment with these drugs, we hope to develop a better understanding of why some patients develop heart failure. We are also hoping to find a reliable way of identifying early heart damage which could help patients make better decisions with their clinical team”.
Dr Rachel Broadbent is also interested in identifying complications promptly. She is screening for early-stage lung cancers which are not necessarily causing any symptoms in people treated for Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) as some treatments put HL survivors at higher risk of lung cancer in later life. Low dose CT scans of the chest can pick up lung cancers when they are at an early stage and could be removed – and cured - with surgery.
Dr Broadbent says: “We have been running a study inviting HL survivors who are at higher risk of lung cancer to come to The Christie for a low dose CT scan of their chest. When the study is finished, we will have screening around 100 HL survivors for lung cancer. This will be the largest lung cancer screening study for HL survivors in the world to date.
“We are very pleased that the study has already found an early-stage lung cancer in one participant, who has gone on to have their lung cancer removed”.
The type of work focusing on living with and beyond cancer is traditionally an under-funded area of research. But thanks to generous donations we have been able to fund essential posts and initiate ground-breaking research at The Christie. Funding has also helped patients to take part in innovative clinical trials.
If you would like to support ongoing living with and beyond cancer research at The Christie, including lymphoma research, please visit the donate page of our charity website. You can also contact the charity team to make a donation over the phone on 0161 446 3988.