A SOUTHAMPTON hospital is launching a pioneering laser treatment which could help prevent some side effects of cancer.

Southampton General Hospital will trial ‘soft’ laser therapy to tackle head and neck cancer over the next year.

It is the first treatment of its kind in the UK and aims to heal tissue in the mouth and throat while a patient undergoes chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The low level laser therapy (LLLT) could eliminate soreness and dryness in the mouth and swallowing problems which are a very common side effect from cancer treatment.

Currently, patients are treated with a combination of pain killers and anti-sickness drugs and many require frequent hospital appointments or admissions to control their symptoms or provide nutritional support via nasal or stomach feeding tubes.

LLLT, which is also known as cold laser therapy, is a drug-free treatment that stimulates damaged cells using an LED light beam to reduce pain and inflammation and is more commonly used to treat musculoskeletal problems such as tendon, bone and nerve damage.

Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar, a consultant clinical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital, is leading the project and said it could “radically change” the impact of the cancer.

He said: “'There is consistent evidence from small high quality studies that LLLT can partly prevent development of this complication and reduce pain, so it offers the potential for a real breakthrough for supportive treatment of head and neck cancer patients in the UK.

''We think, by introducing this technology as part of cancer treatment, we could radically change the impact this condition currently has by ensuring better outcomes, improved quality of life for patients and better treatment compliance, but also reduced medication and inpatient costs for the NHS.''

He added: ''However, a definitive project is needed for using LLLT in routine clinical practice to be certain of the benefits for patients undergoing a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and we are extremely pleased to be leading such an exciting project.''

Dr Ramkumar has been awarded £50,000 by NHS England's Regional Innovation Fund to launch the project, which will initially involve 20 patients at Southampton General Hospital before rolling out to between 120 and 140 patients within the next year.

Each therapy session takes around 15 to 20 minutes and is delivered three times a week for six weeks during radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.