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By Colin Smeeton
An Arran man is one of a small group of people from around the world who are taking part in a medical trial that has been described as a ‘game changer’ in the fight against metastatic cancer.
Donald Macneish of Lamlash is taking part in the clinical trials which are being undertaken by the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre and involves 13 people from Scotland among just 99 people in total from around the world.
The results of the trial, along with those from hospitals in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, have been described by the medical journal, The Lancet, as ‘remarkable’ and offers hope for cancer patients who have previously been considered incurable.
When cancer spreads to other parts of the body, called metastatic cancer, the prognosis is generally bleak but research is now showing, thanks to the medical trial, that it can either be eliminated or greatly reduced by the use of an aggressive form of high-precision radiation therapy.
Known as stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) the high-precision cancer therapy delivers substantially higher than usual doses of radiation to the tumour site in just one or a few treatment sessions.
Donald Macneish, 72, a retired engineer and a well known face on Arran, who co-founded the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) with Howard Wood, was told in 2015 that his prostate cancer that had spread to the base of his spine giving him just six months to live using traditional chemotherapy treatment.
After signing up to the Beatson trials, Donald received the SABR treatment, delivered precisely to the tumour site, and four years on, Donald reports an excellent quality of life. The results of his treatment, and the study results, collated from the participants from around the world have been used in a paper that cancer experts can use as a reliable information and proven treatment resource.
In March this year the therapy once again showed positive results when Donald’s cancer returned to the base of his spine where a tumour developed. The news, naturally, was devastating but unusually Donald was able to receive a second round of SABR. Unusually too, compared to traditional therapies, Donald experienced virtually no side effects and within days of his treatment he flew to Australia to visit his son and grandchildren.
Donald said: ‘The treatment has provided me with three and a half years of extra quality of life without having to move onto Secondary Hormone Therapy. Not only are these drugs expensive monetarily but they are also physically demanding and the postponement in using them will allow the NHS to make significant savings.
‘I wish to say to anyone in a similar situation to me that you should have no concerns about SABR in my experience. If you are offered it, take it and be as grateful as I am.
‘I am also grateful and wish to express my thanks to the consultants and staff at Beatson Glasgow, not only for including me in the trial, but for their skill, professionalism and care.’
Dr Stephen Harrow, a National Research Scotland Fellow at the Beatson, based at Gartnavel Hospital in Glasgow, and co-author on the study, said: ‘We are very excited about these results and I truly believe it could be a game-changer for many.
‘Traditionally when a cancer has spread to other organs other than the original site of the disease patients were considered incurable.
‘However there is a theory called the oligometastatic theory – that if a patient only has a few spots of cancer returning, those spots could be killed with radiation or with surgery to improve their survival. But this has never been shown in a randomised trial before now.
‘It has been a great opportunity for Scottish patients to take part in this ground breaking clinical trial and now we’ve been able to show that if, indeed, a patient’s cancer has spread to only a few spots, those tumours can be targeted with high-dose radiation which has been shown to increase survival by a median of 13 months.’
Named after Sir George Beatson, a pioneering surgeon at Glasgow’s first cancer hospital, the Beatson is Europe’s busiest treatment centre. It serves 2.5 million people across the West of Scotland working with five health boards. Attracting the world’s leading cancer professionals, the organisation is responsible for making huge advancements in the fields of research, drug trials and clinical care and has a world-wide reputation of transforming patient outcomes and survival rates.
Not only has Donald Macneish benefited from the clinical trial but so will thousands of people as the medical paradigm becomes more readily adopted following the successful trial . 01_B31SABR01