Cancer 'soft' laser therapy trialled across UK

A therapy pioneered by doctors in Southampton to help prevent side effects in adult patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer is to be trialled nationwide.

A £1.2 million study, led jointly by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and the Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is trialling a method known as low level laser therapy (LLLT) or photomedicine as a new treatment for head and neck cancer.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and known as Lite Therapy Effectiveness For ORal Mucositis (LiTEFORM), will involve 380 patients at 10 sites across the UK. It is now open for recruitment.

Preventing chemo side effects

LLLT was first used in 2015 as a way of healing tissue in the mouth and throat during the course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment by Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar, a consultant clinical oncologist at Southampton General Hospital.

Around 4,000 people a year in England and Wales receive chemoradiotherapy for head and neck cancer and more than 90% suffer from severe soreness in the mouth and throat, dry mouth and swallowing problems. As well as affecting quality of life, the side effects can also lead to hospital admissions to manage symptoms and, in some cases, interrupt radiotherapy.

Oral Mucositis (OM) is one of the main complications of treatment, affecting taste and speech and causing excessive secretions of saliva which results in nausea, vomiting and weight loss. 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.

Drug-free laser treatment

LLLT is a drug-free treatment that stimulates damaged cells using a low energy laser beam to reduce pain and inflammation, and is more commonly used to treat musculoskeletal problems such as tendon, bone and nerve damage.

Patients in the trial will receive the 15-minute therapy three times a week for six weeks during chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.

Dr Ramkumar introduced LLLT for patients in Southampton following a review of 1,144 patients by researchers in Canada, which found it reduced the development of severe OM and significantly reduced pain, severity and duration among those who suffered from it.

 “There is emerging evidence of the efficacy of LLLT as a treatment for OM, however, it is not the standard of care in the NHS,” he explained.

“Other than through a small pilot project funded by the NHS England regional innovation fund in Southampton, LLLT remains unavailable to NHS patients undergoing treatment for head and neck cancer.

“If shown to be effective in this large multi-centre study, it could radically change the management of this group of patients in the UK and worldwide.”

For more information on the trial, please visit:

Posted on Tuesday 30 January 2018