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Treatment for Footballers Could Help Cancer Patients


Monday 24 August 2009


An oxygen treatment normally given to injured footballers could help relieve disruptive side-effects that pelvic cancer patients often suffer.


The first patient in The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s new trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy is being treated today at a Greater London hospital.


The trial aims to help patients who have received radiotherapy treatment for pelvic cancer – including cancer of the cervix, ovary, prostate, testis, rectum, bladder and uterus – and are left with unpleasant side-effects including diarrhoea, stomach cramps and frequent bowel movements.


Most patients return to normal within a few weeks of stopping radiotherapy treatment, but about 30 per cent develop long-term bowel problems that can interfere with their daily activities and impact on their quality of life. At the moment there is no cure for these symptoms and, as more people are treated for pelvic cancer, an increasing number of people are affected.


A recent small study found evidence that hyperbaric (high pressure) oxygen therapy may be able to improve these side-effects. Now, the ICR and The Royal Marsden are conducting a large Phase III trial to properly test whether this therapy works in patients who have been suffering side-effects for at least a year.


Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is commonly used to treat scuba divers who suffer the bends (decompression sickness), and it is also given to elite footballers after an injury to help them heal more quickly. The therapy involves the patient sitting in a sealed chamber and breathing 100 per cent oxygen (with periodic breaks) while the air pressure around them is gradually increased. The treatment lasts about 30 minutes and after it finishes the air in the chamber is slowly returned to normal pressure before the patient leaves.


The HOT II trial - which is funded by Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health - will take place at specialist centres in Cardiff, Chichester, Great Yarmouth, Hull, Plymouth, North London and the Wirral, co-ordinated by the ICR and The Royal Marsden.


A 71-year-old woman will today become the first patient treated under the new trial, by Hyperbaric Consultant Dr Mihaela Ignatescu at a chamber at Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust in Leytonstone.


The patient, who was given radiotherapy in 1996 after cancer spread from her ovaries to her colon and still suffers chronic stomach cramps and violent uncontrollable diarrhoea, says: “I was delighted to be accepted into this trial to try and improve my quality of life. I consider myself very privileged to take part in the trial and in this way help in the research to hopefully find a cure for pelvic radiation side-effects in the near future.”


The trial is randomised and double-blind, which means the patients will be randomly split into two groups and two-thirds will receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy while one-third will be given normal air. Neither patients nor doctors will know to which group they have been assigned. The treatment is given five days a week for eight weeks.


Professor of Clinical Oncology at the ICR and The Royal Marsden John Yarnold, who is jointly leading the trial with Royal Marsden Consultant Gastroenterologist in Pelvic Radiation Disease Dr Jervoise Andreyev, says: “It’s very difficult for patients who have already suffered through cancer and radiotherapy treatment to be left with these debilitating side-effects. We hope to answer once and for all whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy will improve their quality of life.”




Media Contact: Jane Bunce or 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900


To arrange filming of the hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber please contact Emma Kearney at Whipps Cross on 020 8535 6816

Doctors who wish to refer their patients to the study should contact the ICR trial data manager Sue Martin on 020 8661 3273

Note to editors:

  • More information on the trial can be found at:
  • A recent study showing evidence that radiotherapy side effects can be improved with HOT: Clarke et Al, Hyperbaric oxygen treatment of chronic refractory radiation proctitis: a randomized and controlled double-blind crossover trial with long-term follow-up, Int J Rad Onc Biol, Vol 72, No 1 pp134-143 2008


The Institute of Cancer Research

The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting-edge research. In 2009, the ICR marks its 100 years of groundbreaking research into cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. In December 2008, the ICR was ranked as the UK’s leading academic research centre by the Times Higher Education’s Table of Excellence, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise. The ICR is a charity that relies on voluntary income. It is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with more than 95p in every £ directly supporting research. For more information visit


The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world's first hospital dedicated to cancer treatment, research and education. Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 40,000 patients every year.  It is a centre of excellence, and the only NHS Trust to achieve the highest possible ranking in the Healthcare Commission's Annual Health Check for the third year in a row. Since 2004, the hospital's charity, The Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign, has helped raise over £43 million to build theatres, diagnostic centres, and drug development units. Prince William became President of The Royal Marsden in 2007, following a long royal connection with the hospital.

Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust

Whipps Cross University Hospital NHS Trust is an acute Trust providing care to the local population of Waltham Forest, west Redbridge, Essex and east London. We provide a comprehensive range of acute healthcare services, responding to both emergencies and planned operations. The Trust has education, training and research roles as well as providing a number of 'shared services' to other NHS Trusts. The Big Push appeal for Whipps Cross Maternity Unit will raise £350,000 for essential equipment and resources benefiting the 5,000 babies born at Whipps every year.

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