Researchers reported that radiotherapy given to bowel cancer patients before the surgical removal of the tumour, than later, can cut down the risk of recurrence to 1 %. The usual treatment for bowel cancer is surgery. However, the risk of recurrence is there and once reappeared, treatment is difficult and usually incurable.
The British scientists conducted an international study, to compare the effect of radiotherapy before and after the surgery, on 1,350 patients in Britain, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand.
Lower recurrence rate and a better five-year survival rate was observed in the patients given radiotherapy before the surgery.
"The results of the CR07 trial show that giving a patient radiotherapy before rectal surgery gives them the best chance of avoiding re-growth of the cancer and of survival in the longer term," said Dr David Sebag-Montefiore, of the Cookridge Hospital in Leeds.
This trial was presented at the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) meeting in Birmingham, England.
The pre-operative group patients were given 5 sessions of radiotherapy every day for 2 weeks followed by surgery whereas, in the post-operative group, surgery was followed by 25 radiotherapy sessions for 5 weeks and chemotherapy if required.
In the pre-operative group, 5 % of the patients showed local recurrence of the cancer after 5 years, where as in the post-operative group, 17% of patients showed recurrence. The former had 75% chances for 5-year survival while the latter had 67%.
"This is good news for patients and clinicians alike and could lead to an increase in the use of pre-operative therapy," Sebag-Montefiore added in a statement.
Almost 0.5 million people across the world die due to bowel cancer every year. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) revealed that bowel cancer is the second most common cancer in the developed countries.