A study to improve treatment for side effects of radiotherapy (ORBIT)

Cancer type:

All cancer types





This study was done to find out how to help people cope with bowel problems caused by pelvic radiotherapy, and who is best to help them.

Pelvic radiotherapy means radiotherapy to the area between your hips (your pelvis). This includes radiotherapy for a number of different cancers including prostate cancer, womb cancer, cervical cancer and bladder cancer. The treatment may also affect some of the healthy bowel, causing side effects.

The side effects of pelvic radiotherapy can be long term and can include diarrhoea, leaking of your bowel motion (stool), pain or bleeding from your back passage. Because people can be embarrassed by these problems, they don’t always tell their doctors and nurses. Even if they do, it can be difficult to get practical help and support from experts.

Researchers wanted to find out if specific tests and treatments helped with these bowel problems. They also want to develop a network of new services around the country.

The aims of this study were to find out

  • If following a set pattern of tests and treatments (an algorithm) can help improve people’s quality of life
  • If a specialist nurse using these steps can give the same level of care as a specialist doctor (gastroenterologist)
  • The costs to the patient and to the NHS

Summary of results

The research team found that following set steps (an algorithm) did help people who had side effects caused by radiotherapy to the pelvic area.

This study recruited 218 patients into 1 of 3 groups at random.

  • 68 people had standard care – a detailed self help booklet
  • 70 people had their side effects managed by a specialist doctor (a gastroenterologist)
  • 80 people had their side effects managed by a specialist nurse

Everyone taking part had had pelvic radiotherapy, and had side effects affecting the bowel as a result. The research team assessed their side effects and quality of life when they joined the trial, and again 6 months and 12 months later.

When the research team looked at the results, they found that there was a very small improvement for those who only used the self help booklet. But there was much more improvement for people who saw the nurse or the doctor.

The research team concluded that this approach helped people with side effects caused by pelvic radiotherapy. They suggest that, for most patients, this can be done by a specially trained nurse. The improvement was so big that the research team recommend this approach should be used for everyone who has bowel side effects after pelvic radiotherapy

The research team are looking at the cost of this approach separately, and plan to publish those results at a later date. We will update this page when those results are available.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial.  As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Jervoise Andreyev
Professor Christine Norton

Supported by

NIHR Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) Programme
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 2433

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Charlie took part in a trial to try new treatments

A picture of Charlie

“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”

Last reviewed:

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