Here is how Rosemere in Preston aims to spare cancer patients having repeated surgeries and improve bowel screening

Julie Smith, Plastic Surgery Theatre Nurse/Team Leader, with the new ECT machine at Royal Preston Hospital
Julie Smith, Plastic Surgery Theatre Nurse/Team Leader, with the new ECT machine at Royal Preston Hospital

Rosemere Cancer Foundation at Royal Preston Hospital is leading the way in medical treatments for patients in Lancashire with two new innovative developments.

The Fulwood-based hospital is one of only a handful of centres in the UK to offer a new procedure using an Electrochemotherapy machine (ECT).

Diagram of how ECT works

Diagram of how ECT works

The £40,000 machine will be used by the plastic surgery department, helping to spare cancer patients who suffer recurrent tumours the ordeal of repeat surgeries.

ECT combines the administration of low dose chemotherapy medicines to selectively kill tumour cells, which in many cases are given intravenously, followed by the delivery of brief and intense electric pulses using needle electrodes directly into the tumour.

The electric pulses make the cancer cells more permeable to enable the chemotherapy medicine to reach exactly where it is most needed – they create temporary pores to let the medicine in (electroporation).

Sofiane Rimouche, Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon, explains: “Electrochemotherapy is hugely beneficial to patients as it is an alternative to recurrent surgery or higher dose chemotherapy on its own or with radiotherapy, which all potentially have significant side-effects.

“Different shaped electrodes or plates are used depending on the tumour size, extent, shape and location. As a team, we were extremely lucky to be given the opportunity to trial ECT equipment at no cost. From this trial, we were able to demonstrate patient experience and outcome benefits especially for breast and skin cancer.

“At the trial’s end, we felt the prospect of not being able to continue to offer ECT was a significant backwards step for patient care and quality of life, which is why we approached Rosemere Cancer Foundation for help. Thankfully, we’re now able to continue to provide ECT on an as needed basis.”

Rosemere Cancer Foundation is also developing in other areas as it is involved in a trial that could change the way in which the NHS screens for bowel cancer, aiming to reduce the need for a colonoscopy.

Patients from the Royal Preston and Rosemere Cancer Centre are being recruited to the trial, which is open now and running until next spring. The trial involves a blood test to look for markers to indicate either polyps (benign tumours that carry the risk of turning cancerous so if detected are routinely removed) and/or signs of bowel cancer at its very earliest stage when it’s still curable.

Colerectal surgeon Georgios Sgourakis has been given £28,163 by the cancer foundation to fund his trial.

He explains: “Colonoscopy is an outstanding tool for diagnosing potentially curable bowel cancer. However, it is an invasive procedure that is costly to the NHS and too many patients are undergoing it unnecessarily.

“The aim of this trial is to determine whether a new blood test that is looking for markers to indicate both polyps and bowel cancer at its very earliest can achieve a higher diagnostic performance than our current screening regime.

“Should this study prove to be successful, it will impose new standards of screening with the blood test either as a stand-alone tool or complementary to what already exists.

“Detection of cancerous adenomas at a very early stage may also prevent their development to invasive cancer and their removal during a colonoscopy instead of an operation. Additional benefits would be that more cancers will be detected at very early stages, reducing the need for chemo-radiotherapy to make a significant positive impact on patients’ survival and quality of life.”

Georgios Sgourakis’ bowel cancer trial will involve collaborating with the Biomedical and Life Sciences Department at Lancaster University, which will undertake measurements and statistical analysis of its results.

The team will also work with colleagues at the Royal Preston Hospital and Rosemere Cancer Centre to find local patients.

Currently, a national bowel cancer screening programme invites men and women aged over 60 years to provide a stool sample for testing every two years up to the age of 74.

It is screened for traces of blood invisible to the eye that could indicate polyps (adenomas, which are benign tumours but which carry a risk of becoming cancerous) and bowel cancer.

If blood is found, a colonoscopy is undertaken to determine its cause. A colonoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end into the bowel so doctors can examine the bowel wall.