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International Clinical Trials Day: Bryan’s Story

On International Clinical Trials Day 2024, we’re highlighting Bryan Webber’s story – a positive, direct example of the importance of clinical trials that we fund at Cancer Research Wales.

Having worked for the NHS for over 50 years and with a long career as a dentist in Port Talbot, Bryan had seen the warning signs of oral cancer many times.

On 3 December 2019 he noticed his inflamed tonsil in the mirror and took a picture. The next day, he was given a referral by his GP. On 17 and 18 December, he had CT and MRI scans of his entire body and organs.

On 10 January 2020, Bryan received the result of the tests and was diagnosed with HPV 16 – carcinoma of the tonsil (head and neck).

He was offered to take part in the PEARL clinical trial funded by Cancer Research Wales and led by Professor Mererid Evans at Velindre Cancer Centre.

PEARL investigates the use of PET-CT scans to improve radiotherapy planning and reduce side effects for oropharyngeal cancer patients.

Bryan explains: “[With PEARL] they blast the tumour with radiation and do it again and again, but only hitting the tumour with the beam. So, this poisonous radiation doesn't hit anywhere else. It's just common sense. I was told that with just one PET scan, that I could have a much better chance of surviving this. I saw the scans; you can literally see the tumour growing in my throat.”

Ringing the bell

Bryan started radiotherapy and chemotherapy on 3 February 2020 and just over a month later, he ‘rang the bell’ on his treatment on 13 Friday March 2020. “It was a lucky day for me because the very next week we went into lockdown!”

Thanks to the PEARL clinical trial, recovery was quicker than it would’ve been otherwise. The trial aims to reduce the side effects of traditional treatment and in Bryan’s case, this came true.

“When I was told it would be quicker, for me it was a no-brainer. My daughter warned me that it would be brutal, and it was, but we can only assume that it was less than it would have been with the usual treatment”, said Bryan.

The importance of clinical trials

As a retired dentist, Bryan has seen first-hand how oral cancers used to be treated with general treatments and the often catastrophic consequences of that : “Someone I saw years ago as a dentist in Port Talbot came to me with a problem he’d been having with his neck, and he’d tried and tried to get an appointment with his GP, only to be prescribed antibiotics. He died three weeks later of throat cancer.”

Bryan now advocates for the importance of clinical trials and tries to educate fellow medical professionals about the importance of early diagnosis: "In medicine things must progress, and all the way through the health service we have progress – without clinical trials we’d still be doing the same stuff that we’ve been doing for the last forty years! We’ve got to try new ways of treatment."

To learn more about PEARL and the projects that we fund, click here.