New community-funded research aims to reduce treatment burden for rectal cancer patients

Thanks to the trust, dedication and support of the GI cancer community, up to $200,000 has been awarded to Prof Vicki Whitehall for her rectal cancer research project.

The study is titled Predicting Chemoradiotherapy Sensitivity in Rectal Cancer Organoids, or PRoSecCO for short. It aims to predict how effective chemoradiotherapy treatments will be for rectal cancer patients before they go on them.

Using a provided biological sample, the study hopes to contribute to improved outcomes and quality of life for patients, which could include potentially fewer and less amounts of harsh treatments with questionable trade-off of benefits, avoidance of surgery altogether or expedited access to alternative therapies that could be more effective.

“Patients with rectal cancer will often receive a type of therapy called radiation,” says Prof Whitehall.

“Around 10% of patients will completely respond to this therapy, and in this subgroup, if we knew this information, the patient would be able to avoid surgery.

“Unfortunately, about half of all patients with rectal cancer will receive no benefit whatsoever from radiotherapy.

“If we knew this in advance, these patients could avoid radiation altogether that could be potentially damaging, and have accelerated access to other therapies that are more likely to be helpful.”

Rectal cancer, alongside colon cancer, is the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia. The two are collectively referred to as colorectal cancer or bowel cancer.

But funding for research into rectal cancer treatments is urgently needed.

Prof Whitehall’s project presents a unique opportunity to kick-start new, updated approaches to the disease, including by putting the patient at the centre of decisions about their own health. The study will also be led by a multidisciplinary team, with the aim of producing more scientifically rigorous results that contribute to a larger range of improved patient outcomes.

“I’m working closely with Associate Professor David Clark, who’s a colorectal surgeon, and Dr Matthew Burge, who’s a medical oncologist at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital,” Prof Whitehall says.

“Together, we’re hoping that successful completion of this project will result in this technology being used clinically in the future.

“Thank you very much to the GI Cancer Institute for this opportunity.”

Groundbreaking research projects like this are made possible through contributions from people like you in the GI cancer community. Find out more about donating to the GI Cancer Institute or community fundraising with us.