CHEMOTHERAPY before surgery can help boost chances of survival for more cancer patients, Hampshire researchers have revealed.

A major new study by the University of Southampton has discovered that more patients suffering from oesophageal cancer than previously thought have their lives extended thanks to chemotherapy before surgery to remove their tumour.

The discovery means that while for some patients pre-op treatment did not shrink their tumours, the chemotherapy did stop the spread of the disease – something which went unnoticed until now.

Researchers from the University of Southampton looked at the records of more than 200 patients with a type of oesophageal cancer known as adenocarcinoma treated at Southampton General Hospital.

Previous research has shown that giving chemotherapy before surgery can benefit more than a quarter of patients by causing their tumours to shrink but in addition to these patients, the researchers found that an extra group also benefitted from the chemotherapy.

Even though it had not shrunk the original tumour, it did reduce the spread of the disease in the lymph nodes and this had a knock-on effect of better survival rates and increasing the average time between relapses from just over one year to more than five-and-a-half-years.

Tim Underwood, pictured, an oesophageal surgeon researcher at the university and one of the study authors, said: “We’re at the start of the journey to find markers that will help us tailor our treatments for patients with oesophageal cancer.

“There’s so much more we need to find out about this form of cancer – which is why I’m working on one of the most important research projects to unravel the genetic code of oesophageal cancer.”

Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s director of clinical trials, added: “Cancer Research UK is making oesophageal cancer a research priority in order to make headway in the fight against this devastating disease.”