This year marks 10 years since Friends of the Cancer Centre began its investment in locally led cancer research and in that time, the charity has invested nearly £3 million to help find new and improved cancer treatments. Today, a decade on, the charity’s funding of vital research continues with £1,325,001 committed over the next three years which will allow clinicians and researchers to continue their vital work.

Through our partnership with the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research at Queen’s University in Belfast and the Northern Ireland Cancer Trials Network, the charity provides the core funding needed to pay for the staff required to run research studies in Northern Ireland. The charity currently funds 10 members of the research team including research nurses, radiographers and a data manager.

Last year, 90 cancer clinical trials and research studies were available to both adult and paediatric cancer patients in Northern Ireland covering a range of over 20 different cancers. One of the major clinical trials supported by the charity is the SPORT trial, which is led by Friends of the Cancer Centre’s Consultant Clinical Oncologist Professor Suneil Jain. The SPORT trial is a study evaluating the use of highly targeted radiotherapy in men with high risk prostate cancer that has not spread. The trial is the first of its kind in the UK and has shown that men diagnosed with prostate cancer can benefit from radical radiotherapy that delivers advanced treatment called SABR (Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy) in five hospital visits instead of the typical 20.

Results from the trial are incredibly promising, as Professor Jain explains:

“We are very excited by the results of the SPORT trial which have proven that this large reduction in treatments with advanced radiotherapy is feasible in patients with high risk prostate cancer. Our hope is that in the future all men with high-risk prostate cancer will require only five treatments of radiotherapy with SABR, improving their chances of disease control, whilst minimising the risk of life-altering side effects.”

“When you are sitting in front of a specialist oncology nurse and she says ‘you have cancer’, it is a real sledgehammer moment.”

One of those benefiting from the charity’s investment in research is John Creswell from Coleraine, who was one of the participants in the SPORT trial following his prostate cancer diagnosis in 2018. John explains:

“Like other men before me, I had symptoms long before I went to see my GP, including needing to go to the toilet multiple times throughout the night, straining and stopping mid flow. When I did see my GP, he took a urine and blood sample. A few days later, the doctor advised that the blood test revealed a high PSA, which is a protein produced by normal cells in the prostate and also by prostate cancer cells. Although this is an indicator of prostate cancer, it is not conclusive, so I underwent a physical examination which revealed that my prostate was an irregular shape and enlarged.

“I needed a biopsy to further diagnose what was going on. My initial biopsy came back clear, however I was told I would be seen again in three months. By the time my review came around, my symptoms had not eased so I was referred for an MRI scan which indicated that there was an area of interest on the prostate. I was then referred for a targeted biopsy. The results confirmed I had cancer.

“When you are sitting in front of a specialist oncology nurse and she says ‘you have cancer’, it is a real sledgehammer moment.”

“A million thoughts go through your mind, but I was actually quite calm about it. My intuition was, from day one, that I had cancer. Possibly my career in the Fire Service taught me to be pragmatic, to take it on the chin and deal with it.

“I started hormone treatment at Altnagelvin Hospital and my consultant told me that my treatment would also include 37 sessions of radiotherapy over five and a half weeks. I had been doing some research into treatments available, so I enquired about brachytherapy, which is an internal form of radiotherapy. The consultant advised me that Altnagelvin did not offer that treatment, but I could be referred to the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre in Belfast. It was during my consultation in Belfast that I first learned of the SPORT trial.

“I was really interested in the clinical trial as it would only involve five radiotherapy sessions over five days. One day per week would result in less travelling and I was also of the mind-set that without trials and research things are never going to progress. Fiducial markers (pieces of gold) were injected directly into the prostate and a gel spacer injected into the area between the bowel and prostate, which would protect the bowel from radiation. For me the trial was 100% successful and I had few adverse effects.

“I sincerely hope that the trial will influence how treatment will be carried out in the future. I’m incredibly grateful to all those involved in the trial and to Friends of the Cancer Centre, as their vital work and support is making a difference to so many.”

Click to access the login or register cheese