A new “soft” laser therapy is to be used nationwide to help prevent patients undergoing treatment for neck and head cancer from suffering severe side effects.
The low-level laser therapy (LLLT), or photomedicine, will help prevent patients suffering from soreness in the mouth and throat, dry mouth and swallowing problems.
More than 90% of the 4,000 people a year in England and Wales who receive chemoradiotherapy for head and neck cancer experience side effects which can lead to hospital admissions and, in some cases, interrupt the course of radiotherapy.
The new treatment, developed by the NHS foundation trusts of University Hospital Southampton and Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals, is being trialled nationwide as part of a £1.2 million study funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).
One of the main complications of current treatments is oral mucositis (OM), which affects taste and speech. It causes excessive secretions of saliva, which result in nausea, vomiting and weight loss. Currently, patients are treated with a combination of painkillers and anti-sickness drugs and many require frequent hospital appointments to control their symptoms. Some also need nutritional support through nasal or stomach feeding tubes.
LLLT is a drug-free treatment that stimulates damaged cells using a low energy laser beam to reduce pain and inflammation. It’s more commonly used to treat musculoskeletal problems such as tendon, bone and nerve damage.
Consultant clinical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar said the LLLT would improve quality of life for patients.
“If shown to be effective in this large multi-centre study, it could radically change the management of this group of patients in the UK and worldwide,” he said.