Beating bowel cancer together

Improving how well radiotherapy works for patients with rectal cancer

Researcher: Rachael Clifford

Location: University of Liverpool

Funding: Bowel Cancer UK/Royal College of Surgeons of England jointly-funded fellowship 

Bowel Cancer UK/RCS Research Fellow, Miss Rachael Clifford, is looking at ways to improve how well radiotherapy works for patients with rectal cancer.

The challenge

Many patients with rectal cancer will be offered treatment before surgery. This is referred to as ‘neoadjuvant’ treatment and is likely to be a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy).  Chemoradiotherapy shrinks the cancer and makes it easier for the surgeon to remove.  For some people, this can treat the cancer without the need for surgery at all.  Avoiding surgery could mean that patients have fewer long-term side effects.

Chemoradiotherapy works better for some people than others.  Miss Clifford’s project aims to find out if we can predict whose cancer might respond less well to the radiotherapy part of the treatment and if this can be improved so more people could avoid surgery.

The science behind the project

Miss Clifford will be looking at an enzyme called acid ceramidase.  Radiotherapy is thought to work better in people with lower levels of this enzyme in their cancers. This project will use cells grown in the laboratory to look at whether blocking this enzyme means radiotherapy can become more effective.

What difference will this project make?

It’s hoped this research might help improve how well radiotherapy works in the future, potentially avoiding the need for major surgery for some patients with rectal cancer.

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