What is the future of clinical oncology?

Gene therapy to treat cancer

Clinical oncology treatment is changing fast, with new types of radiotherapy, brachytherapy and immunotherapy undergoing trials and coming into practice. 

We are seeing newer types of external beam radiotherapy – such as intensity modulated- and stereotactic body radiotherapy – being used in cancer centres, and the RCR is campaigning to ensure we have the staff and expertise to rollout these techniques across the UK. 

January 2019 saw a milestone development for UK radiotherapy services, with the first NHS patients treated with high-energy proton beam therapy at The Christie centre in Manchester. This new technology will especially benefit the young cancer patients and those with very rare tumours, and the planned expansion of the programme will help the NHS to investigate more uses for this type of radiotherapy. 

In brachytherapy, novel new radioisotopes such as radium 223 (which specifically binds to cancer cells) are starting to be used to boost treatments for prostate cancer and reduce treatment side-effects in patients. 

Over the next decade, we predict magnetic resonance scanner-enabled LINACs – which enable allow clinical oncology teams to monitor changes in tumour position and avoid healthy tissue in real-time during radiotherapy – will become more widespread. 

Great developments are expected around using immunotherapy drugs in combination with radiotherapy, and we hope that these systemic therapies will be proven to boost the local tissue immune-related changes that radiotherapy produces.

The UK Government is making big commitments to expand genomics services, both to tailor cancer treatment and, hopefully, improve cancer prevention. 

Advances in genetic mapping will mean cancer patients will have their tumours routinely 'decoded' in future, enabling clinical oncologists to prescribe targeted, fully personalised systemic and radiotherapy for every patient.