Cheshire woman struck twice by tonsil cancer sees tumour shrink by half thanks to new trial

Paul Crone spoke to Jeanette about the treatment and what it means for her and her family.

A woman who has been diagnosed with tonsil cancer twice is celebrating after doctors confirmed her tumour has shrunk in half.

Jeanette Joyce, 64, from Northwich in Cheshire, took part in a new medical trial to treat a tumour in her left tonsil. The new treatment, which involved immunotherapy and protein injections, resulted in her incurable tumour shrinking by just over 50%.

She was first diagnosed with cancer in her right tonsil and soft palate (roof of the mouth) in May 2021.

“I thought I had hayfever, but it was during lockdown and I couldn’t get an appointment at the doctors."

“When I did see the doctor, I had a biopsy and it came back as cancer in my right tonsil. It was a shock, I was completely stunned.”

Jeanette was told her cancer was incurable and to begin preparing for death, but a new medical trial has potentially added years to her life Credit: NHS

She endured 33 doses of radiotherapy and two rounds of chemotherapy. In July 2022, she was given the all clear and was delighted to ring the bell to signal the end of treatment.

However, 12 months later she was diagnosed with a completely unrelated second tumour in her left tonsil that was incurable.

She said: “I was so shocked, stunned and in disbelief. It felt like I was having an out-of-body experience when I was being told they couldn’t do anything more for me.

“It felt like I was staring into my own coffin. I even started planning the music for my funeral.”

Doctors told Jeanette she was eligible for a phase 2 clinical trial, which involved having an immunotherapy drug every six weeks, as well as a protein injection every three weeks.

The clinical trial is testing a new combination of treatments for head and neck cancers, and was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research Manchester Clinical Research Facility.

After eight months of treatment, Jeanette got the news that the tumour had shrunk.

Jeanette has been celebrating the good news by spending more time with her husband and neighbours. Credit: NHS

“Everything is going in the right direction at the moment", she said.

“When I was told it was incurable, I was completely floored. But I’ve always been incredibly positive, and the trial means the tumour is shrinking.”

"The clinical trial was the only thing left for me, so I thought, why not give it a go? I had nothing to lose.

Jeanette has been on the treatment for eight months, and will continue to take part in the trial.

Dr Robert Metcalf is a consultant oncologist at the Christie and said: "Jeanette is doing very well on this clinical trial and experiencing no side-effects, which is fantastic for her.

“We have seen her tumour reduced to half the size in eight months. We’re on the right trajectory so something’s working, so we’re going to stick with this treatment and see where we get to.”

Dr Metcalf said: “This trial has shown some promising results with half the patients responding well.

“It’s still early days, but we’re hopeful this drug combination could become a standard treatment for some patients with head and neck cancer in the future."

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