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PIONEERING: Dr Christopher Scarse, head of Ipswich Hospital’s oncology department, and the department’s superintendent research radiographer Christine
Mackenzie showing how radiotherapy at the hospital has changed.
Groundbreaking Cancer Research Team Leads Way
24 January 2012

It was back in 2005 that Ipswich Hospital first became involved with a research project that is already changing people’s lives for the better. And it is in the treatment of cancer in the hospital’s Oncology Department that the benefits of this work can already be seen.

Dr Christopher Scrase is the head of the hospital’s Oncology Department. He said: “The study has been published recently in The Lancet Oncology. This is an important step for the hospital.” The study looked at two types of radiotherapy. Conventional radiotherapy versus a more advanced technology called Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy otherwise known as IMRT. Dr Scrase said: “IMRT is much more tailored to the patient. It can be designed to pin-point radiation exactly where you want to deliver it. “It is better to be able to avoid structures that don’t need to be treated, for example the salivary glands in the cheeks.” Dr Scrase added: “We know that for patients who have radiotherapy treatment for head and neck cancers, one of the most common side effects is dry mouth syndrome and the impact of that in the long term can be quite profound. “The study was asking if, by avoiding those glands, patients would benefit.

Dry mouth syndrome can affect eating and speaking and can be an extremely unpleasant condition. Dr Scrase said that patients are often keen to take part in clinical trials and research. He added: “It had almost become accepted that dry mouth syndrome was an inevitability of head and neck cancer radiotherapy. This study has demonstrated that IMRT can change that.”

Alongside a handful of other hospitals the department tested patients and recorded results for several years. The department’s superintendent research radiographer Christine Mackenzie was among the research team. She said: “We were involved in the collection of saliva from each patient, measuring how much was produced over the course of two years.” Mrs Mackenzie, who has worked at the hospital for 35 years, said the use of IMRT is now standard practice at Ipswich Hospital and is improving the quality of life of patients. A co-author of the study, Dr Scrase said the hospital’s oncology department is among those leading the way in the development and use of IMRT. He said: “The research  is embedded in the department’s philosophy and goes hand in hand with the delivery of patient care.”

Later in the year, Ipswich Hospital will once again be involved in a research project aimed at evaluating more about the use of IMRT in the treatment of head and neck cancer. Dr Scrase added: “The study will be asking the question, by increasing the radiotherapy dose in a precise fashion to where the actual cancer is located, can you improve cure rates in certain cases?” In the meantime the department continues to lead the way in the development of IMRT technology. Dr Scrase said: “I am delighted the department was able to contribute to this very  important clinical trial, which has led to a major advance in how head and neck cancer radiotherapy is delivered in this country.”