A trial looking at increasing the dose of radiotherapy before surgery for bowel cancer (OPERA)

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer

Status:

Open

Phase:

Phase 3

This trial is comparing 2 ways of giving an increased dose of radiotherapy before surgery for rectal cancer. It is open to people with cancer of the back passage (rectum) that can be removed by surgery.

More about this trial

The standard treatment Open a glossary item for rectal cancer is to have surgery to remove the rectum.

Another treatment doctors might use is chemoradiotherapy Open a glossary item. You have 5 weeks of radiotherapy to the area between your hips (pelvis) along with a chemotherapy tablet twice a day.

After chemoradiotherapy if there is no sign of the cancer (a complete response) you might not need to have surgery. Or if you still need surgery it might not mean removing the rectum. Unfortunately after chemoradiotherapy a complete response is rare.

Studies have shown that increasing the amount of radiotherapy can increase the chances of a complete response. This can be done by giving extra doses of radiotherapy after the 5 weeks. This is called a boost.

In this trial researchers want to compare 2 ways of giving a boost of radiotherapy:

  • using external radiotherapy Open a glossary item
  • using internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy Open a glossary item)

The aims are to:

  • find out if giving a boost of radiotherapy after the initial 5 weeks can increase the chances of getting a complete response
  • find out which is the best way of giving the boost
  • find out what are the side effects
  • compare the quality of life Open a glossary item

Who can enter

The following bullet points list the entry conditions for this trial. Talk to your doctor or the trial team if you are unsure about any of these. They will be able to advise you.

You may be able to join this trial if all of the following apply. You:

  • have a type of rectal cancer called adenocarcinoma that is stage T2, T3a or T3b
  • have cancer that is less than 5cm across and has spread to at least1 lymph node and no more than 3 lymph nodes Open a glossary item. If your cancer has spread to the lymph node, it must be less than 8mm across
  • can have surgery to remove the cancer
  • can have internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) to the cancer
  • are willing to use reliable contraception during treatment
  • are at least 18 years old

You cannot join this trial if any of these apply. You:

  • are not able to have surgery to remove the cancer
  • have cancer that has grown through the outer lining of the rectum or has spread to another part of the body
  • have cancer that has spread to 4 or more lymph nodes. Or it has spread to 1 to 3 lymph nodes and any of the lymph nodes is 8mm or more across
  • have cancer that is high grade Open a glossary item
  • have had radiotherapy to the area between your hips (pelvis)
  • are not able to have radiotherapy
  • have cancer that has grown into the ring of muscle around your anus (anal sphincter)
  • have another cancer that is continuing to get worse
  • have another medical or mental health condition that might affect you taking part in this trial
  • have taken an experimental drug or used an experimental device as part of another clinical trial in the past 28 days
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding

Trial design

This is an international European phase 3 trial. The team need 236 people in Europe to join the trial, 120 from the UK.

Everyone has chemoradiotherapy followed by a boost (extra doses) of radiotherapy. For chemoradiotherapy you have capecitabine at the same time as your radiotherapy.

Capecitabine is a tablet you take twice a day when you have radiotherapy.

You have 5 weeks of radiotherapy Monday to Friday.

The boost part of the trial is randomised. You are put into 1 of 2 groups by a computer. Neither your or your doctor can choose which group you are in.

Everyone taking part has chemoradiotherapy followed by one of the following:

  • 5 extra doses of external radiotherapy
  • 3 extra doses of internal radiotherapy

OPERA diagram

During the 14th week after starting chemoradiotherapy your doctor will assess how well the cancer has responded to treatment. The response can be either:

  • no sign of the cancer (complete response) or almost complete response
  • the cancer has shrunk (partial response)
  • the cancer has stayed the same (stable disease)
  • the cancer has got worse (progression, which is very rare)

Whether you need further treatment depends on the response. Your doctor will talk to you about this.

For a complete response or almost complete response
You might have:

For partial response and stable disease
It is recommended you have surgery to remove the rectum. You have the surgery about 3 weeks after seeing the doctor for the assessment.

Quality of life
You fill in a quality of life questionnaire:

  • before starting treatment
  • 3 months after finishing treatment
  • every 3 months for a year
  • every 6 months for 2 years

The questions ask you about:

  • your general health
  • any side effects you might have

Hospital visits

You see the doctor before taking part to have the following tests:

  • a physical examination
  • heart trace (ECG Open a glossary item)
  • rectal examination Open a glossary item
  • sigmoidoscopy (a test to look at the lower end of the bowel)
  • blood tests
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan

During treatment you see the doctor every week to see how you are. People having the 3 extra doses of internal radiotherapy also have a rectal examination during their boost.

You see the doctor 14 weeks after starting treatment to assess how well the cancer responded to treatment. And to talk about further treatment.

You then see the doctor:

  • every 3 months for a year
  • then every 6 months for 2 years

Side effects

The most common side effects of radiotherapy are:

  • sore or inflamed skin around the bottom and anus, this usually happens about 3 to 4 weeks of having treatment
  • pain when having a poo (faeces)  
  • diarrhoea
  • pain when passing urine
  • women might have irritation in their vagina
  • tiredness and drowsiness

The most common side effects of capecitabine are:

  • diarrhoea
  • a drop in the amount of blood cells making you at higher risk of getting an infection, tiredness, bruising and bleeding
  • tingling, numbness, swelling, redness or pain of the hands and feet (hand-foot syndrome)

Your doctor will talk to you about the side effects of treatment before you agree to take part.

We have information about the side effects of radiotherapy for rectal cancer and capecitabine.

Location

Hull
Liverpool
Manchester
Nottingham

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

Professor Arthur Sun Myint

Supported by

Centre Antoine-Lacassagne, France

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

4055

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

Alan took part in a clinical trial for bowel cancer patients

A picture of ALan

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

Last reviewed:

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