Radiotherapy helped one in three in largest ever trial

December 4, 2015

A JHMRF- funded fellowship to assess the effectiveness of radiotherapy in treating mesothelioma found that one in three patients benefited from some pain relief, with one in eight recording a complete resolution of their pain. Brother Peter fellow Nicholas MacLeod described the results as encouraging.

More work was needed to see how different doses might affect outcomes, he added.  Following the success of the trial, the Fund has recently agreed to support a larger study considering the effectiveness of different doses of radiotherapy.

Patients with mesothelioma may suffer from pain, sometimes severe and difficult to treat with drugs. For some years, radiotherapy has been used for pain relief but there has been little evidence so far supporting its effectiveness.  Mesothelioma affects the lining of the entire lung; radiotherapy given to this whole area can cause side effects negating any potential gains in terms of pain control.

SYSTEMS was a UK multi-centre study in which patients with mesothelioma received a standard dose of radiotherapy over five days to the area of pain. The patients were followed up for 12 weeks and their response to radiotherapy was recorded.

The study recruited 40 participants between June 2012 and December 2013 from cancer centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Sheffield, of whom 30 were able to undergo radiotherapy.  This is the largest ever study of its kind.  The average age of participants was just over 70 and their diagnosis was eight months previously.

14 patients had improvement in their pain five weeks after the radiotherapy, with five having a complete resolution of their pain. No changes in other factors or symptoms such as breathlessness or quality of life were detected,(apart from a small improvement in night sweats) but this could be explained by the relatively small number of participants.

Nicholas Macleod said, “The improvement seen in pain control in this study gives us grounds for optimism.The study would not have been possible without the support of the JHMRF and I cannot thank the charity enough for awarding me the Brother Peter Fellowship which enabled me to carry out this work.”

Follow this link to read the results that were published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology in June 2015.

The follow-on study, the SYSTEMS-2 trial, was funded by the JHMRF in the latest round of competitive research applications. Dr MacLeod said, “I’m delighted to continue the partnership with the June Hancock Fund and to have the opportunity to take this work forward to the next phase.”

If SYSTEMS-2 is successful, there is potential for the findings from this study to be widely implemented in practice and have an immediate impact on patient care.