The Royal Marsden

World Cancer Day: How The Royal Marsden is shaping the future of cancer treatment

Ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February, our Medical Director, Dr Nicholas van As, highlights how we are leading the way in areas such as radiotherapy, drug development and robotic surgery

By Dr Nicholas van As | 02 February 2017 | @nickva1

Dr Nicholas van As with CyberKnife

On World Cancer Day, cancer organisations across the globe take the opportunity to raise awareness of their cause and fundraise for their work.

This year, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity is joining forces with nine other cancer charities to sell Unity Bands to raise money for our different causes.

As you know, The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity exists solely to support the work of The Royal Marsden. So where does The Royal Marsden, comprised of two hospitals in a corner of south west London, fit in on an international awareness day?

How do we influence how cancer patients are treated and cared for, not just in our own hospitals but all over the world?

The Royal Marsden, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe and the only National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre dedicated solely to cancer.

We are a centre of excellence with an international reputation for ground-breaking research and pioneering the very latest in cancer treatments and technologies.

World-firsts in radiotherapy

From leading the first randomised trials of conformal radiotherapy to being involved in the development of intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) and leading the research of IMRT and CyberKnife, we have a long history of leading in developing and delivering radiotherapy.

We’re leading an international study called the PACE trial which is comparing robotic surgery with CyberKnife radiotherapy, and comparing standard radiotherapy with stereotactic body radiotherapy in prostate cancer.

And now we are the first hospital in the UK and one of only seven centres in the world to install an MR Linac – a state-of-the-art machine which will allow us to see the target with the best imaging there is and then adapt the treatment to it with real time adaptive radiotherapy.

We have the largest experience in the country of treating oligometastases, which is where a patient has a limited number of metastatic sites which we aim to eradicate. 

Immunotherapy and drug development

Together with the ICR, we have led the development of drugs from the bench to the bedside that are now available across the world.

For example, the drug Abiraterone (invented by the ICR) is prescribed to tens of thousands of prostate cancer patients in the UK and many more internationally, thanks to research started at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, showing that it increases life expectancy and improves quality of life.

Similarly, we led clinical trials in the UK for the immunotherapy drugs Vemurafenib and Ipilimumab, the results of which represented the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of metastatic melanoma for more than 30 years.

Robotic surgery

Thanks to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity funding our da Vinci S and da Vinci Xi robots, we are leading the way in robotic surgery.

The precision we can achieve with robotic surgery means operations are less invasive for the patient, the hospital stay is much shorter and the recovery much quicker.

Shaping the future

It has been 150 years since the death of William Marsden, who founded the world’s first ever hospital dedicated to cancer, and we have learnt a huge amount about cancer in that time. But the more we learn, the more we realise that we are only scratching the surface and there’s still plenty to learn about the disease and the treatments.

It will never stop. We will never get to a point where we know all the answers, but we are in a very exciting phase of treatment practice where treatments are becoming far more tailored to the individual patient and individual cancers.

In 10 years from now, a lot more decisions will be driven by molecular medicine; liquid biopsies will mean we can use simple blood tests to match patients to their most effective treatments.

We have also realised that many people who may not be cured of cancer can live with their cancer for many years. So our work isn’t just curing cancer, it’s also about quality of life with and beyond cancer; improving people’s experience of treatment, living with the result of treatment and the impact of cancer both physically and psychologically.

We are in a very exciting phase of treatment practice where treatments are becoming far more tailored to the individual patient and individual cancers

Dr Nicolas van As Medical Director

Support World Cancer Day

Much of what I have described here would not have been possible without The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. They have funded a significant number of the research projects that allow us to stay at the forefront of cancer research and treatment, from the CyberKnife to the da Vinci robots.

So I’m wearing my Unity Band with pride on World Cancer Day and encourage everyone to get theirs and help ensure The Royal Marsden can continue to push the boundaries and benefit cancer patients, wherever they are.

The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Unity Bands are available from our Chelsea and Sutton hospitals, Goldsmiths stores and Banham showrooms for a suggested donation of £2.