MRI scan

World’s first research centre for recurrent head and neck cancer

The Royal Marsden NHS FT have launched the world’s first research centre for recurrent head and neck cancer, as a result of funding from the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. It hopes to accelerate research into the disease, which will be carried out by a world-class team of clinicians and researchers.

The International Centre for Recurrent Head & Neck Cancer (IReC) also aims to improve patient outcomes in the UK and beyond, in the curative treatment, palliation, and supportive care of recurrent head and neck cancer.

The IReC announced a series of initiatives to help achieve these goals, including:

  • A national registry to improve understanding around recurrent head and neck cancer, whist capturing the different ways it is treated across the UK.
  • A tissue biobank to support laboratory and translational research.
  • An International Referral Centre to offer rapid second opinions for patients being treated in the UK and internationally.

This will also include the funding of three PhD research fellows, trial managers, a clinical trial nurse and a data manager, to increase research capacity. 

Head and neck cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the UK, with more than 12,000 diagnoses each year. After treatment, it is estimated that between 20% and 40% of head and neck cancers will return, and in England, between 28% and 67% survive for five years or more.

IReC Director Professor Vinidh Paleri, Consultant Head and Neck Surgeon at The Royal Marsden, said: “Treating recurrent head and neck cancer is incredibly challenging as these patients have already been treated, often with surgery and radiotherapy, which can cause anatomical changes, scarring, and impaired healing. This means successfully treating the disease requires access to multi-specialty expertise, the latest drugs and surgical technology.

“However, patients with recurrent head and neck cancer in the UK face inconsistent access to treatment, with many treated palliatively not curatively. We also don’t know enough about the disease’s incidence or outcomes as national databases do not provide this information in detail, unlike for primary cancers.

“Through IReC, we aim to transform the treatment and care of recurrent head and neck cancer. From building a better understanding of how the disease is managed across the UK through a national registry, to funding research into novel treatments and minimally invasive surgery, our work will drive better outcomes for patients at The Royal Marsden and across the world.”

The IReC aims to launch more UK and international based projects over the next 10 years, to improve outcomes for patients. Part of this plan includes creating an international network of centres to roll out clinical trials quickly, and a genomics hub to enhance diagnostics and offer personalised treatment.

Charles Wilson, former Booker CEO and the founding donor of IReC, said: “Having been diagnosed with throat cancer three years ago, it is a privilege to support Professor Vinidh Paleri and his amazing team in helping found the International Centre for Recurrent Head & Neck Cancer.

“The need is great and the analytical, surgical and clinical expertise at The Royal Marsden is mind-blowing. The research could make a huge difference to patients around the world.”

The Royal Marsden’s Head and Neck Unit has been recognised as one of the largest of its kind in Europe and over the last two decades has helped pioneer numerous advances in the management of recurrent head and neck cancer.

Find out more about the IReC here.

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NHE May/June 2024

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