“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”
A study looking at changes to DNA in people having radiotherapy
We know that this is an especially worrying time for people with cancer and their family and friends. We have separate information about coronavirus and cancer. Please read that information alongside this page. We will update that information as guidance changes.
This study looked at the level of damage and repair in genetic material (DNA) in white blood cells after radiotherapy treatment.
More about this trial
As well as damaging cancer cells, radiotherapy can also affect healthy cells near the treatment area. This can cause side effects.
The area of the body being treated and the dose of radiotherapy both affect the side effects people might have. The dose people need depends on where the cancer is, and how big it is.
Researchers in this study wanted to understand more about cell damage caused by radiotherapy.
To do this, they measured the amount of a specific protein called gamma H2AX in white blood cells, as a sign of the cell damage in the body generally. Cells produce more gamma H2AX if their DNA is damaged. So a higher level of this protein could mean there is more cell damage.
The aim of this study was to measure the level of DNA damage and repair in white blood cells after radiotherapy.
Summary of results
The study team found that the level of gamma H2AX protein did increase during radiotherapy treatment.
This study was open for people to join between 2008 and 2011, and the research team first presented results at a conference in 2010.
About this study
IMRT means the area of radiotherapy is shaped to the specific area of cancer. It is a way of giving more radiotherapy to the areas that need it, while protecting healthy tissue. But it can still affect healthy tissue.
Radiotherapy is split into doses called fractions. It is common to have several fractions a week for a few weeks.
The research team took blood samples from people in the study:
- when they joined the trial
- just before and 30 minutes after one dose (fraction) of radiotherapy each week
- 2 and 6 weeks after they finished treatment
They measured the amount of gamma H2AX protein in white blood cells to assess the level of DNA damage.
The results showed the level of gamma H2AX in white blood cells:
- was very low before people started treatment (baseline measurement)
- increased during the first week of radiotherapy
- did not increase much more as treatment went on
- went back to the baseline level by 6 weeks after treatment
These results suggest that radiotherapy does cause some DNA damage to healthy cells, but that the damage is repaired once treatment stops.
The research team concluded that measuring gamma H2AX is a useful way to assess DNA damage. And that DNA that is damaged by radiotherapy but is repaired after treatment.
They suggest that it might be useful to use gamma H2AX measurements to compare DNA damage caused by different types of radiotherapy.
Where this information comes from
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Professor Susan Short
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre
University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust