DARS Study Shows Benefit of Dysphagia-Optimised Radiotherapy in Patients with Head and Neck Cancer

Radiotherapy to the Head and Neck can cause significant throat and swallowing difficulties. Belfast was the highest recruiting centre taking part in the DARS clinical trial , a study that randomised patients to standard radiotherapy v dysphagia-optimised radiotherapy to evaluate swallowing post treatment. Early results, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference this year, revealed 40% of patients who received the dysphagia-optimised technique reported that they ‘could swallow as good as ever’ compared to 15% of patients in the standard radiotherapy arm. Other benefits of the dysphagia-optimised technique were significantly reduced dose to key swallowing muscles, improved patient-reported swallowing function and improved and speech & language therapist assessment of swallow function.

Dr Keith Rooney, Principal Investigator (PI) of the study in Belfast, reported;

‘This functional benefit using the more complex dysphagia-optimised technique is a game changer in radiotherapy planning for throat cancers and our physics and treatment planning team have been instrumental in demonstrating its benefits through involvement from the trial development stage through to participating in the quality assurance component of trial management. Our speech and language team worked closely with the trial coordinators to improve the swallowing assessments and have also participated in a further substudy within the trial using videofluoroscopy.

The combination of our entire research, planning and clinical team worked seamlessly to enable the success of the trial locally and we were the top performing centre with the highest number of patients recruited and continue to achieve  high completion of our follow-up assessments. In addition, Friends has been instrumental in enabling the trial to succeed through its support of our research and clinical teams.

Well done everyone!’

NICTN wishes to thank all the patients who are taking part in the study and congratulates the study team on these results, demonstrating dysphagia-optimised Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) will provide significant quality-of-life benefits to patients.

Read the study abstract here https://ascopubs.org/doi/abs/10.1200/JCO.2020.38.15_suppl.6508 .

Some members of the DARS team: Left to right – Stacey Conway (Lead Clinical Research Radiographer), Dr Keith Rooney (PI, Consultant Oncologist), Oonagh Stewart (Clinical Research Radiographer), Dr Fionnuala Houghton (Consultant Oncologist), Aileen McGurran (Speech and language Therapist) and Dr John Lawson (Consultant Radiologist)

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