DARS Study Shows Benefit of Dysphagia-Optimised Radiotherapy in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer

Radiotherapy to the Head and Neck can cause significant throat and swallowing difficulties. Belfast was the highest recruiting centre taking part in the DARS clinical trial , a study that randomised patients to standard radiotherapy v dysphagia-optimised radiotherapy to evaluate swallowing post treatment. Early results, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference this year, revealed 40% of patients who received the dysphagia-optimised technique reported that they ‘could swallow as good as ever’ compared to 15% of patients in the standard radiotherapy arm. Other benefits of the dysphagia-optimised technique were significantly reduced dose to key swallowing muscles, improved patient-reported swallowing function and improved and speech & language therapist assessment of swallow function.

Dr Keith Rooney, Principal Investigator (PI) of the study in Belfast, reported;

‘This functional benefit using the more complex dysphagia-optimised technique is a game changer in radiotherapy planning for throat cancers and our physics and treatment planning team have been instrumental in demonstrating its benefits through involvement from the trial development stage through to participating in the quality assurance component of trial management. Our speech and language team worked closely with the trial coordinators to improve the swallowing assessments and have also participated in a further substudy within the trial using videofluoroscopy.

The combination of our entire research, planning and clinical team worked seamlessly to enable the success of the trial locally and we were the top performing centre with the highest number of patients recruited and continue to achieve  high completion of our follow-up assessments. In addition, Friends has been instrumental in enabling the trial to succeed through its support of our research and clinical teams.

Well done everyone!’

NICTN wishes to thank all the patients who are taking part in the study and congratulates the study team on these results, demonstrating dysphagia-optimised Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) will provide significant quality-of-life benefits to patients.

Read the study abstract here https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2020.38.15_suppl.6508 .

Some members of the DARS team: Left to right – Stacey Conway (Lead Clinical Research Radiographer), Dr Keith Rooney (PI, Consultant Oncologist), Oonagh Stewart (Clinical Research Radiographer), Dr Fionnuala Houghton (Consultant Oncologist), Aileen McGurran (Speech and language Therapist) and Dr John Lawson (Consultant Radiologist)

Post-Consultation PPI Strategy Available

The NICTN and NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF) have released their post-consultation PPI strategy for cancer research in NI.  This updates the strategy originally launched last year.  The NICTN and NICRCF wish to thank everyone who contributed to the consultation and everyone involved in review of this current version.

Post consultation NICTN_NICRCF PPI Strategy FINAL v 2 31 March 2020


NICTN starts re-activating recruitment

Patient safety remains a priority of the NICTN.  At the outset of the local COVID-19 crisis NICTN suspended recruitment to the majority of clinical trials and other research studies.  In alignment with national guidance, NICTN is currently working to re-activate recruitment to studies, where this is feasible and safe.   Anyone who wishes to consider participation in a cancer clinical trial should discuss this with their doctor.

Results of the FAST-Forward study of radiotherapy for breast cancer

The NI Cancer Trials Network at Belfast Trust was one of several centres in the UK involved in the FAST-Forward study of radiotherapy for women following surgery for early breast cancer.

Between 2011 and 2014 over 4000 participants were randomly assigned to one of 3 arms:

  • 40Gy in 15 fractions (over 3 weeks – standard of care)
  • 27Gy in 5 fractions (over 1 week)
  • 26Gy in 5 fractions (over 1 week)

Five-year results are now published in the Lancet revealing a one-week course of radiotherapy in fewer but larger doses is as safe and effective as the standard three-week therapy.  Researchers have already seen a change in practice, reducing hospital visits for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as reducing demands on the health service.  Read more here.

Massive thanks to the staff and patients in Northern Ireland for their contribution to this study.

NICTN update – COVID-19

During the current COVID-19 crisis patient safety remains a priority for all our existing research patients.  NICTN has consequently taken the decision to suspend recruitment to the majority of clinical trials and other research studies until further notice.  This decision will remain under constant review.

Anyone with concerns about their treatment options should discuss this with their own doctor.

Dr David Montgomery visits NI Cancer Trials Network, 22 January 2020

Dr Melanie Morris (NICTN), Dr David Montgomery (PCUK) and Prof Joe O’Sullivan (QUB/BHSCT) 22.01.20

During a visit to the FASTMAN Centre of Excellence in Belfast, Dr David Montgomery, Prostate Cancer UK Executive Director, met with some members of the NI Cancer Trials Network. Topics discussed included current research, personal and public involvement in research and future directions.  FASTMAN is a Belfast-Manchester prostate cancer research collaboration funded by PCUK/Movember.

John’s Journey with Prostate Cancer – shared for World Cancer Research Day

The NICTN is indebted to Mr John Creswell, who has shared his account of prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment, including participation in the SPORT study at the NI Cancer Centre, Belfast.  Mr Creswell and his wife visited the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, Queen’s University Belfast, during celebrations for World Cancer Research Day, 24 September 2019.  During the event John met up with researcher Dr Ciaran Fairmichael (see photo below).

John has willingly shared his story to help raise awareness of cancer research.   NICTN wishes to thank John, and fellow participants in cancer clinical trials, without whom we would be unable to advance cancer treatments.

Read about John’s journey here:

John’s Journey with Prostate Cancer 24.09.19

NICTN and NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum Celebrate World Cancer Research Day

The NICTN and members of the NI Cancer Research Consumer Forum (NICRCF) got involved in a variety of activities to raise awareness of cancer research in Northern Ireland for World Cancer Research Day, 24 September 2019.

In Antrim Hospital, CRUK co-funded Clinical Research Nurses Philip McAuley and Alison Begg raised awareness of cancer clinical trials (see photo below).

NICTN staff and members of the NICRCF attended a tour of the NI Precision Medicine Centre in the Health Sciences Building and visited the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, QUB.  NICTN staff and Forum members alike were inspired by what they saw and heard, and wish to thank QUB for organising the visit and thank researchers and NI Biobank staff for their tour and time discussing current innovations in cancer resesarch (see photos attached).

World Cancer Day Tour Precision Medicine Centre and CCRCB QUB photos 24.09.19