Improving radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer

Dr Robert Chuter
Location: University of Manchester
Date: April 2024
Project status: Starting soon

The challenge 

Radiotherapy is frequently used to treat pancreatic cancer that hasn’t spread to other parts of the body. Standard radiotherapy involves delivering high-energy x-ray radiation very precisely to kill the tumour cells, and is often used to treat patients for whom surgery is not possible. However, it is difficult to accurately target a high enough dose of radiation to destroy the tumour without also damaging nearby healthy organs, causing unwanted side effects and reducing a patient’s quality of life. This is particularly hard for cancers in the abdomen like pancreatic cancer, because the process of digestion means that organs are frequently moving about.  

The project 

Two recent advances in radiotherapy techniques have shown huge potential to  

improve the accuracy of treatment and therefore improve survival rates of pancreatic cancer. These new techniques are called proton beam therapy and Magnetic Resonance (MR)-guided radiotherapy.  

Proton beam therapy uses tiny particles called protons to send beams of high energy into the tumour. These are able to target and destroy tumours more precisely than X-ray radiation. 

Magnetic Resonance (MR)-guided radiotherapy enables real-time imaging of the tumour and surrounding tissues during treatment allowing highly accurate and precise targeting of the radiation to the tumour. 

In this project, Dr Chuter hopes to learn more about which patients are likely to benefit most from these new techniques, allowing patients to be offered the treatment that is best suited to their cancer. He will also study the process of MR-guided radiotherapy in patients with the aim of learning more about how pancreatic cancer tumours move around during the digestive process.  

The hope 

Understanding which patients would benefit most from which type of radiation would allow doctors to ensure that patients get the treatment that is right for them, and also identify patients who could be safely treated close to home with conventional treatment, and who would strongly benefit from referral to a specialist centre to be treated with these new techniques. Learning more about how pancreatic tumours move around during digestion will also help to make treatment more precise for all patients, whatever method is used.

Meet the researcher

Dr Robert Chuter