The investigators noted a progressive increase in the proportion of patients with more advanced disease over time, particularly with the detection of more lymph-node positive disease
Research funded by the Bowel Diseases Research Foundation (BDRF) and spearheaded at the University of Manchester and the Christie NHS Foundation Trust Manchester, UK, has found that rates of lymph node spread are being overestimated, potentially leading to overtreatment of patients with radiotherapy.
The large-scale systematic review, ‘Nodal status and survival in anal cancer’, published in The Lancet Oncology, examined 62 studies that included more than 10 000 patients with anal cancer. The investigators noted a progressive increase in the proportion of patients with more advanced disease over time, particularly with the detection of more lymph-node positive disease.
“These high-profile results will play a vital part in improving patient care. Our research team have done a wonderful job highlighting an important and as yet unrecognised issue in the staging of cases of anal cancer,” said Professor Andrew Renehan, who leads the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC) Anorectal Organ Preservation Research Group. “Their findings will help us to better understand how anal cancer patients should be treated, ultimately improving survival rates and quality of life. It is crucial that we tackle what is becoming an increasingly common form of cancer through research studies like this.
Anal cancer is a rare form of cancer, but cases have increased sharply in recent years. Research is urgently needed to improve detection and treatment and to save lives. The findings of this project will play a crucial role in these efforts going forward.
The study examined whether current methods of checking if anal cancer has spread to lymph nodes are giving an accurate picture of survival rates.
Radiotherapy can result in damaging side-effects, and doctors are particularly keen to avoid it in cases where it offers little benefit to the patient at potentially great cost.
The results will be crucial to future large-scale trials looking at optimum care for anal cancer patients. By identifying a unique phenomenon, these results will be taken into account by future work and ultimately could lead to better diagnosis of tumour stage and thus better treatment.
“With rates of anal cancer on the rise it is crucial that we get to grips with it through improved care and treatment. We’re delighted to see BDRF work published in high impact journals, showing that small charities like ourselves can achieve big results,” said Peter Rowbottom, BDRF’s CEO. “The BDRF is proud to fund work into all forms of bowel disease, and we know much more of this cutting edge work is needed to deliver the new treatments patients so urgently need.”