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Huge new UK breast cancer study launched by Derby Hospitals

Published 01/10/2014

A national research project which could change the way women worldwide are treated for breast cancer has been launched under the leadership of Derby Hospitals.

The research grant award of £2.9 million to Mr Amit Goyal, Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon is the largest-ever grant received by a Derby Hospitals' researcher. The grant will fund his team's work, which will involve 50 or more hospitals across the UK taking part in a decade-long study.

The funding – from the National Institute for Health Research’s Health Technology Assessment Programme - will support a ten year project investigating the effectiveness of axillary (armpit) treatments for women with early stage breast cancer.

In normal practice, women with early stage breast cancer that has spread to one or two lymph glands in the armpit will receive chemotherapy, hormone therapy or sometimes both. These women also have treatment to their armpit. This is either a second operation to remove all the lymph glands in the armpit, or radiotherapy to the same area.

However, these axillary treatments commonly lead to problems in the arm and hand, including long-term swelling (lymphoedema), shoulder stiffness, numbness or pain.

While it is well established that chemotherapy and hormone therapy successfully prevent cancer from returning, it is less certain whether treatment of lymph nodes in the armpit is necessary. In this new study half the women will have armpit treatment, and the other half will not. All women will still receive any other cancer treatment deemed necessary for them.

This randomised trial is one of the largest breast cancer studies in UK. It is led by Mr Goyal, co-ordinated by the Nottingham Clinical Trials Unit at the University of Nottingham and Sussex Health Outcomes Research & Education in Cancer at the University of Sussex, and will involve 50 or more UK hospitals.

Mr Goyal said: ”The study will investigate whether treatment to the armpit adds any further benefit to chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

“If the study can demonstrate that axillary treatment is not necessary then thousands of women around the world will be spared its potentially unpleasant permanent side-effects, which are a constant reminder of the cancer.”

Derby Hospitals’ Medical Director Dr Nigel Sturrock said the research project could have far-reaching benefits: “This research has the potential to change the way in which breast cancer patients are treated; it will investigate whether armpit treatment is worthwhile as it may have permanent side effects which have blighted the lives of many patients long after their treatment is over.”

Anyone who wishes to find out more about the trial, or get involved with it, should visit www.posnoc.co.uk. 

Last Modified 01/10/2014