Some patients receiving chemotherapy after surgery for bowel cancer might only need three months of treatment rather than the six months currently given, according to new research published in the Lancet Oncology.

An international clinical trial, funded by an NIHR and MRC partnership and led by the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit in Glasgow, assessed the effectiveness of a three-month course of adjuvant oxaliplatin/fluoropyrimidine combination chemotherapy for colorectal cancer versus the standard six-month regimen.

After three years, 76.7 percent of patients who received the three-month regimen were disease free compared to 77.1 percent of patients treated over six months. Fewer side effects and a better quality of life were also reported with the shorter treatment period.

The researchers said the data also showed a reduction in peripheral neuropathy  - a common side effect of oxaliplatin – in patients on the shorter treatment regimen.

“Approximately 2,500 patients per year currently receive up to six months of post-operative chemotherapy. Reducing chemotherapy duration to three months will save the NHS £5,000 per patient – a total saving to the NHS of £12.5 million pounds per year,” noted chief investigator Dr Tim Iveson, consultant medical oncologist at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and honorary associate professor at the University of Southampton.

“This study will have a direct benefit for individual patients, sparing them unnecessary adverse effects of drugs, and save costs for the NHS. It could lead to a major change in how bowel cancer patients are treated,” added Professor Tom Walley, director of NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies.