Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A trial looking at a new method of radiotherapy versus standard radiotherapy for head and neck cancers (PARSPORT)
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This trial was comparing a new type of radiotherapy treatment called Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) with standard radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancers. This trial was supported by Cancer Research UK.
You may have radiotherapy on its own, or after surgery, for head and neck cancers. But radiotherapy has side effects. The radiotherapy can often affect the salivary glands, causing a very dry mouth. Other side effects include a sore throat and problems with swallowing.
The new method is called Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy, or IMRT for short. IMRT alters the radiotherapy dose depending on the thickness of the body tissue. So the cancer gets the same dose across the treatment area. It also allows the radiotherapy beams to be shaped more accurately and directed at the cancer, while avoiding the surrounding normal tissue. You may have fewer side effects. But there is a small risk that this shaped radiotherapy will miss some of the cancer and so may not work so well.
The aims of this trial were to find out if IMRT caused fewer side effects and if it worked as well as standard radiotherapy for head and neck cancers.
Summary of results
The results showed dry mouth was less of a problem for people who had IMRT than for people who had standard radiotherapy treatment.
The trial recruited 94 people with head and neck cancers.
- Half had standard radiotherapy treatment
- Half had IMRT
Most people had radiotherapy as their first treatment, but 23 people had it after surgery.
Two years after treatment, about 3 out of 10 people (29%) who had IMRT had a dry mouth, compared with over 8 out of 10 people (83%) who had conventional radiotherapy.
The only side effect that was
About 8 out of 10 people in both groups had no sign of the cancer coming back 2 years after treatment. Although the researchers are continuing to follow the progress of people in the trial, they point out that the number of people taking part is too small to show any differences between the 2 groups in the average length of time people live after treatment.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Prof Chris Nutting
Cancer Research UK
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/03/005.