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Speeding-up cancer recovery

05 October 2009

Doctors operating

Patients who have surgery to remove cancer of the oesophagus, stomach and pancreas recover quicker if they are given liquid food within 12 hours, new University research has found.

Patients with cancers of the oesophagus, stomach and pancreas are traditionally starved for up to 10 days after gastrointestinal operations.

However, a new clinical trial from the University’s School of Medicine, in collaboration with the University Hospital of Wales and funded by the Health Foundation, found if patients are given nutrition directly into the intestine - through a feeding tube - they can recover around three days sooner.

Dr Rachael Barlow, now based at the School of Healthcare Studies, and lead investigator in the trial, said: "In our trial we turned the traditional thinking to starve patients after major gastrointestinal surgery on its head and have found huge benefits.

"The striking finding that food straight after surgery meant patients recovered quicker and tended to have fewer complications. Most importantly, patients who were given the nutrition were more likely to be healthier and have a better quality of life in the months after surgery."

The trial looked at whether food straight after surgery had any effect on the speed of recovery compared to starvation techniques.

Researchers now believe if food is given after all major abdominal and thoracic surgery it could save the NHS millions of pounds.

Dr Barlow, who presented her findings to the National Cancer Research Institute's annual conference this week, added: "The next step is to find out if we can adopt the same practice in other types of surgery and there are several clinical trials taking place at the moment. Taking this step may result in a saving of millions of pounds and could mean fewer bed shortages in hospitals."

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