British scientists have launched a proton beam therapy trial to evaluate whether precision therapy could help breast cancer patients.
The researchers want to examine whether certain patients would benefit from the treatment over conventional radiotherapy.
A small number of breast cancer patients are at greater risk for long-term heart problems after receiving conventional treatment.
It is hoped that proton beam therapy, which can more precisely target radiotherapy beams at these patients, will provide adequate radiotherapy to the breast tissue while minimizing “off-target” radiation to the heart.
Approximately 30,000 breast cancer patients are offered post-operative radiotherapy each year in the UK.
Standard radiotherapy uses high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells and reduce the chance of disease recurrence.
Treatment is effective for the vast majority of patients, but for less than 1 percent of people treated, conventional radiotherapy can lead to heart problems later in life, as the breast tissue and lymph nodes are close to the heart.
Some patients already have an increased risk of underlying heart problems.
The scientists want to evaluate whether patients who use charged particles instead of x-rays to target tumors more precisely would benefit from proton beam therapy.
Around 200 patients will participate in the study, led by researchers at the University of Cambridge, Institute for Cancer Research, London and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.
They will receive treatment at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester or University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and will be offered accommodation to those traveling far from home.
The trial is funded by the National Health and Care Research Institute and the Medical Research Council.
“Although only a very small group of people are affected by a higher risk of heart problems later in life, this can still be a serious issue,” said Professor Charlotte Coles, lead investigator at the University of Cambridge.
“Most patients treated with radiotherapy have decades of wellness ahead of them, and we must do everything we can to avoid potential heart problems in the future associated with treatment.
“Standard breast radiotherapy is really effective for most people with very few side effects, but there is a small group of patients for whom proton beam therapy may be a better option.”