Media Release

QEH becomes European first in vital cancer trial

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn has become the first district general in Europe to enrol volunteers to a vital breast cancer research trial.

The study investigates whether breast cancer can be detected earlier if markers in the blood can be identified in women at a high risk of developing the condition. People at high risk of developing breast cancer often undergo a double mastectomy, so detecting the disease at an earlier stage could be a major step forward to eliminate the need to have surgery.

The QEH’s breast screening department and research teams worked collaboratively to invite every woman who was eligible to join the trial when attending their check-up. The team have successfully recruited 12 volunteers to date. By aligning research appointments with mammogram appointments, the team have also managed to minimise inconvenience and risk to participants.

The impact of COVID-19 meant many studies had to pause and many staff refocussed on the international priority of finding ways to treat patients with Coronavirus. However, in time, the Trust’s Restart process launched and the team at QEH spotted an opportunity to get the vital study started.

Hayley Webb, Research Nurse at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, who is leading the study as Principal Investigator at the Trust, said, “At the beginning, COVID overruled a lot of our lives and we had to adapt to what was the most important thing at the time, but by working as a team, we’ve managed really well.”

Acknowledging the benefit of working in collaboration with other colleagues, Hayley said, “We’re really supportive of one another, and if there is one positive outcome from COVID, it’s that it has brought us all together.”

Antonia Hardcastle, Research Manager at QEH, said, “The team are brilliant, they’ve coped really well. We’ve really enjoyed the spirit of working together during COVID, so we’re now looking for new studies where everyone can continue this.”

Helen Macdonald, Chief Operating Officer for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)’s Clinical Research Network Eastern said, “It is excellent to see that, despite the challenging odds, Hayley and the team have ensured that essential research can continue and patients are given the opportunity to take part in it. Through the years, and recent months in particular, the strengthening of our unique NIHR research community at trust, regional and national level continues to gain momentum, putting us in the best shape possible to find new treatments to benefit as many people as we can.”

The EMBED: Early Markers for Breast Cancer Detection study is funded by Cancer Research UK and supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). It is led nationally by Prof. Douglas Easton at the University of Cambridge and co-ordinated by Joanna Proctor, and is due to be open until September 2023.