Project details

Researcher: Dr Matt Williams

Location: Imperial College London

Cost: £173,414

The challenge

Secondary (metastatic) breast cancer is when breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body. While it’s currently incurable, the disease can be treated. But treatments are limited when the cancer has spread to the brain.

The most common treatment for these tumours is whole-brain radiotherapy. But it comes with side effects because radiotherapy also affects healthy tissues. So, we need to develop radiotherapy treatments that can effectively target breast cancer tumours in the brain while minimising damage to healthy tissues.

“We’ve developed a way to deliver radiotherapy that increases the dose that the tumours in the brain receive, while reducing the dose to the rest of the brain. This targeted approach, called DE-iPTV VMAT, should be more effective in treating people with secondary breast cancer in the brain than whole-brain radiotherapy and have fewer side effects. But we need to see that it’s practical and works for patients.” - Dr Matt Williams

The science behind the project

Dr Matt Williams of Imperial College London and his colleagues are conducting a small clinical trial for people with secondary breast cancer in the brain. They’re investigating whether a complex targeted radiotherapy treatment called DE-iPTV VMAT could be used instead of whole-brain radiotherapy.

They want to understand whether this new type of radiotherapy is manageable and suitable for patients and how it affects their quality of life. So, everyone taking part in the clinical trial will receive the new type of radiotherapy. They’ll also collect and analyse blood samples to see if it’s possible to tell who might benefit more from this treatment.

Matt will also use national cancer data to better understand the survival rates, the use of health care services and the cost of secondary breast cancer in the brain. This data is important because the targeted radiotherapy treatment takes longer to plan and costs more than standard whole brain radiotherapy.

These data will help Matt and colleagues plan a larger clinical trial in the context of existing care. And this larger trial will then be able to directly compare the new targeted radiotherapy and existing whole brain radiotherapy treatment.

What difference will this project make?

This project may lead to new a treatment to improve the quality of life of people with secondary breast cancer in the brain. It will also provide the necessary information to plan a larger national clinical trial, which will then be able to test the benefits of the complex radiotherapy treatment more thoroughly.

How many people could this project help?

Over 1,000 people with breast cancer receive radiotherapy for tumours in the brain each year in the UK. And the majority of them could benefit from a targeted radiotherapy that reduces the radiation to healthy brain tissue, which could improve treatment effectiveness and reduce side effects.