A former Manchester United football scout has been spared invasive surgery and given the all-clear thanks to a groundbreaking cancer trial.
Tom Critchley, who carved out a career spotting sports stars and was a corporal in the Royal Engineers, was diagnosed with early stage rectal cancer last April.
He was referred to the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and was immediately offered the chance to join the Aphrodite trial.
This trial is investigating whether a higher dose of radiotherapy increases the chance that rectal cancer – a type of bowel cancer – can be treated without resorting to painful surgery.
Patients may also avoid the need for a stoma, where an opening in the abdomen is connected to the digestive or urinary system to allow waste to pass out of the body.
Mr Critchley, 76, grandfather-of-three, underwent 28 sessions of radiotherapy on the trial and took a chemotherapy tablet twice a day.
By February this year, the club and bar singer was given the all-clear. His scans continue to show no signs of cancer.
In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Critchley said he went to his doctor straight away when he developed bowel cancer symptoms. In his case, it was blood on the toilet paper.
“It was a massive shock to be diagnosed with cancer as I’ve always been fit and healthy,” he said. “But I knew I wanted to get treatment right away.”
Mr Critchley lost his wife Eileen to cancer when she was 54. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died just five weeks later.
“People don’t go on clinical trials because they are frightened of not getting treatment and they think a trial won’t help them,” he told PA.
“But I thought the opposite. I thought the trial could help me but it will also help somebody else.
“Even if it doesn’t work for me, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for somebody else.
“As it happens, the treatment has worked amazingly. There are no signs of cancer – it’s gone completely.”
Mr Critchley, from Astley near Leigh in Greater Manchester, said the treatment was intense and he suffered some side-effects such as peeling skin.
Medics offered to lower his chemotherapy dose but he told them he could manage for the 28 days of treatment, which were carried out Monday to Friday.
The grandfather, who spent 20 years with Manchester United and eight with Bolton Wanderers, has two children, Neil and Julie, and grandchildren ranging from 12 to 18 years old.
He said: “I would say to people don’t be frightened of taking a chance on a clinical trial because the answer to your problem could be within that trial.
“Do it and hope you get the result that I have.”
Dr Claire Arthur, a consultant oncologist at the Christie, said: “A standard dose of radiotherapy given over five and a half weeks can lead to cancer disappearing in about a third of patients diagnosed with a small, early rectal cancer.
“The aim of the trial is to discover if a higher dose of radiotherapy given over the same length of time results in a better response, avoids surgery and sometimes a stoma bag, and improves quality of life for the patient.
“Modern radiotherapy techniques enable a patient to be given a higher dose to the tumour while reducing the amount the normal tissue receives, therefore reducing the initial and long-term side effects.
“Tom responded well to the radiotherapy and has no significant long-term side effects.
“He’s now been clear of cancer for over eight months which is great news. Tom will continue to be closely monitored.”
The Aphrodite trial is led by Professor Simon Gollins from the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, and Dr Ane Appelt from the University of Leeds and Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.
Dr Appelt, who has been supported by a fellowship from Yorkshire Cancer Research, said: “The Aphrodite trial will help us to develop better and kinder treatments for patients with rectal cancer.
“We know that some patients can be cured for their rectal cancer using radiotherapy and chemotherapy alone, avoiding the need for surgery and a stoma.
“With modern high-tech radiotherapy techniques, we are able to deliver a much higher dose of radiotherapy to the cancer – but we need the Aphrodite trial to determine if that will also lead to more patients being cured of their cancer.
“We are completely dependent on people like Tom to find better treatments for future cancer patients.”
The trial is still recruiting patients and is being managed by the clinical trials research unit in Leeds.