Objective Pelvic radiotherapy is used to treat 17 000 people in the UK each year. Eight in 10 develop difficult bowel problems during pelvic treatment, especially diarrhoea, urgency and incontinence. Some cannot complete treatment, reducing the chance of cancer cure. Undertaking gastroenterologist-led investigation and management during pelvic radiotherapy has never been evaluated. In this study, we aimed to assess whether patients could successfully receive a novel gastrointestinal (GI) care bundle during chemoradiotherapy (feasibility aim) and would experience reduced symptom severity (clinical impact aim).
Design This randomised controlled trial recruited patients with cervical and bladder cancers undergoing radical chemoradiotherapy. Participants were randomised to intervention or control groups. Questionnaire and anthropometric data were collected. All intervention group patients received individualised dietary counselling weekly throughout treatment, and if bowel symptoms developed they were offered rapid-access investigation and treatment for any identified pathology: lactose intolerance, bacterial overgrowth or bile acid malabsorption.
Results Feasibility: 50 participants were recruited, 24 were randomised to the intervention group and 26 to the control group. All completed 20 fractions of external beam pelvic radiotherapy. It was possible to perform 57/72 (79%) of proposed intervention tests with no disruption of oncological management.
Clinical impact All participants developed GI symptoms during radiotherapy. The median symptom score for each group increased from baseline at 6 weeks. This was from 0.156 (0.000–0.333) to 0.600 (0.250–1.286) in the control group, and from 0.00 (0.000–0.300) to 0.402 (0.000–0.667) in the intervention group.
Conclusion It was feasible to recruit to and deliver a randomised controlled trial of interventions in patients undergoing pelvic chemoradiotherapy. Lower median bowel scores were reported in the intervention group at 6 weeks, with fewer patients experiencing symptoms overall.