Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre celebrates first anniversary

Wednesday 27 July 2022

A photo of Dr Imran Perkar

Dr Imran Petkar

On World Head and Neck Cancer Day, Guy’s and St Thomas’ is celebrating a year since the launch of its specialist head and neck cancer centre.

Opened with the support of charitable donations to Guy’s Cancer Charity, Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre brings together a range of programmes and services to offer patients the best possible care.

The centre aims to speed up the diagnosis for head and neck cancer patients, improve the ways they are treated for their condition and provide state-of-the-art support services to improve the quality of life for those living with and beyond head and neck cancer.

Innovative research is a key focus of the centre and one such study is using the tumour tissue of patients to grow ‘organoids’ and test them with different cancer treatments with varying doses to assess their treatment sensitivity. Organoids are a simple 3-dimensional version of a tissue that are produced in a laboratory which closely resemble the original tumours and can be used by scientists to study disease and treatments outside of the human body.
Led by Dr Anthony Kong and Dr Ifigenia Vasiliadou, the project aims to use the information from these organoids to assess how it may help to guide future treatment for head and neck cancer patients.
The study has recently been approved by the ethical committee and three patients have already been recruited to take part so far. The tumour and normal tissues from these patients have been used to generate organoids and once they can grow efficiently in the lab, they will be tested with different cancer treatments. The study plans to create a “biobank” of organoids from head and neck cancer patients.
Clinical fellow Dr Vasiliadou said: “Radiotherapy is the main curative treatment in the majority of head and neck cancer patients. In some patients we also add chemotherapy in addition to radiotherapy.
“Some of the patients that are treated with radiotherapy, or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, relapse. And upon relapse or if the cancer spreads, some of the patients will have systemic treatments including chemotherapy and immunotherapy. We know some tumours are very resistant to treatment. 

“At the moment there’s no easy way to predict who will benefit and who will not. By testing on the organoids, we hope to be able to find out what treatments will be most effective for different types of tumour, ensuring that patients have the best possible treatment for their particular cancer, improving outcomes for future patients.”

Another key focus of Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre is reducing the side-effects of radiotherapy, and thereby improving patients’ quality of life. Standard intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) is an effective curative treatment for most head and neck cancers, but it can cause damage to the surrounding healthy normal tissues resulting in life-changing difficulties in swallowing. This can leave cancer survivors unable to eat and drink normally.  
To address this, the clinical team at Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre have developed optimised IMRT, designed to reduce swallowing problems after treatment without compromising the effectiveness of the radiotherapy. The team has additionally introduced pre-treatment and three months post treatment X-ray examination of patients’ swallow, known as videofluoroscopy (VFS), as part of a pilot project. VFS allows for a detailed assessment of the swallowing process and is recognised as an effective way of identifying problems with swallowing.  
Consultant oncologist Dr Imran Petkar, who leads on the projects, said: “We implemented optimised IMRT in 2021 as a more precise, and at the same time kinder, radiotherapy which is achieved by altering the shape of the radiation beam to reduce dose to the swallowing organs such as the swallowing muscles and tongue. 
“Preliminary results at three months following treatment completion have been very promising, with only 5% of patients requiring a feeding tube at 3 months following treatment completion, compared to 30% reported in other centres.” 
“We are the first centre in the UK to offer routine VFS to our patients. Results from this test will allow us to develop personalised swallowing exercise programmes for our patients aimed at reducing long-term issues with swallowing.”

Head and neck cancer is the sixth most common cancer globally, with more than 650,000 people diagnosed annually. Around 1,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every month.

Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre was opened with support from Charles Wilson and Dr Rowena Olegario, from Wilson + Olegario Philanthropy. Mr Wilson was treated for neck cancer by a team from Guy's Cancer four years ago.
He said: "It is immensely rewarding to see the impact that Guy’s Head and Neck Cancer Centre has had in its first year. The work that is happening right now will have huge benefits for years to come, helping to transform the detection and treatment of head and neck cancers, as well as the care that can be given to those living with head and neck cancer.
“It is a privilege to support the incredible staff who work tirelessly to improve outcomes for their patients. Their passion and expertise is truly inspiring and the research that is currently being undertaken has the potential to drive change around the world.”
Wilson + Olegario Philanthropy have funded head and neck cancer research for many years and plan to invest over £6m to support the ongoing work of Guy's Head and Neck Cancer Centre.

Guy’s Cancer Charity is undertaking further fundraising to continue to fund Guy’s Cancer Centre’s transformative programme for head and neck cancer patients and further enhance the care they receive.

Last updated: August 2022

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