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Case study: Taking part in cancer research: David’s story

Taking part in cancer research: David's story

A Headington grandfather-of-seven has urged people to consider taking part in research to shape the future of healthcare after joining a bowel cancer study.

David Martin, 58, spoke ahead of International Clinical Trials Day on Saturday 20 May, a day of awareness-raising about the importance of health research.

The deputy lodge manager at St John’s College at the University of Oxford says he feels “stronger each day” following immunotherapy treatment received as part of a bowel cancer trial, supported by the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The PRIME-RT trial aims to find out if immunotherapy drug durvalumab can shrink rectal cancer with radiotherapy and chemotherapy to avoid the need for surgery for some patients.

In November 2022, David was invited to provide a stool sample as part of a routine bowel cancer screening for people over 55.  The results indicated abnormalities and David was invited to have further testing.

David said he had previously noticed a small amount of blood in his stool, which he thought was as a result of having anal fissures, small tears in the large intestine.

He said: “At no stage did I feel ill, I had a little blood but no obvious cancer symptoms like pain or bloating.”

In December 2022, David underwent a colonoscopy at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford and was diagnosed with stage-2 bowel cancer.

“As soon as I heard the word ‘cancer’, I thought the worst. I was completely shocked.

I spoke with a cancer specialist and when I was invited to take part in the trial, I immediately said yes. I thought I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking part.”

Participants in the PRIME-RT trial are given immunotherapy drug durvalumab in addition to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.  Immunotherapy is not part of standard treatment for rectal cancer and works by stimulating the body’s immune system to help fight the cancer.

David received 4 rounds of immunotherapy alongside radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

He said: “The fatigue is the worst part. It’s so much worse than having the flu. All I can do is rest and wait for the feeling to go away.

I don't want anyone to ever be frightened of screenings. It's better to have it done and find out if there is something wrong, than to find out at a point when it’s too late.”

“I’m privileged to have been invited onto the trial. I’ve received extra assessments to make sure my body is responding to the treatment properly. I also appreciate all the phone calls from the nurses and doctors on the study team who check in on me.”

David will find out in June if his cancer has shrunk and whether he will need surgery. The results of the trial have yet to be announced.

“Right now, I feel great. I do think the immunotherapy has worked and has made me stronger and more able to fight the cancer.

“If the doctors tell me that I don’t need an operation, then I will be absolutely over the moon.

“The university students and my work colleagues have been so supportive. They have told me that I look so well and can’t believe that I have cancer. 

“I’m so grateful to have been offered this immunotherapy treatment. I am so optimistic that I will beat this. If anyone is ever given the chance to take part in a trial like this, absolutely go for it.”

The PRIME-RT study is co-sponsored by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the University of Glasgow and aims to recruit 42 people from across the UK. The study is coordinated by the Cancer Research UK Glasgow Clinical Trials Unit and is funded by AstraZeneca UK.

Participating in health research helps develop new treatments, improve the NHS, public health and social care and save lives.

The NHS, public health and social care supports research by giving patients opportunities to take part in trials. Healthy people can also take part so results can be compared to those with a medical condition.

Patients are also encouraged to ask their doctor or health professional about research opportunities, view trials seeking volunteers and sign up to be contacted about studies at