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Decreasing the side effects from breast cancer treatment

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Dr Marianne Aznar , Prof M Van Herk , Prof C West Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

Radiotherapy is an important part of a successful treatment for many women with breast cancer, but it can lead to side effects. Women often complain about skin burns, a stiff shoulder or a swollen arm: all of these can decrease a woman’s quality of life and how she can work or care for her family.
We want to improve radiotherapy treatments for future women. For example, we know that some women are much more sensitive than others, and that smoking and certain types of surgery increase the chance of radiotherapy side effects. What we don’t know is whether some parts of the breast and shoulder are more sensitive than others and how much the dose to those different parts increases the chance of side effects.

In a large European project led by the University of Manchester, 2000 women with breast cancer were asked to answer short questionnaires and give blood both before and after radiotherapy. This is the largest study of this kind to be ever focused on side effects. In this project, we will use this unique set of data along with a new image analysis technique developed by our group: we will look at the exact dose given to each part of the breast and shoulder, and find out how this dose is linked to the chance of experiencing skin burns or arm swelling but also tiredness and changes in the appearance of the treated breast.
With this information, we will be able to produce better treatment plans for each patient. We will be able to provide better information to each patient about her chance of side effects.

Training/techniques to be provided:
This project will be the ideal opportunity for a student with a strong physics or computer science background to work on real-life healthcare applications of their expertise. In addition to the academic challenges inherent to the project (developing the image-based data-mining approach for specific applications to breast cancer, handling large datasets with multiple components, etc..), the candidate learn about clinical radiotherapy, clinical trials and will have the possibility of contributing to a clinical trial design for breast cancer and proton beam therapy. The candidate will be well positioned for a future career in radiotherapy physics, either in the clinic or in academia.

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a related area / subject. Candidates with experience in medical physics or with an interest in radiotherapy are encouraged to apply.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.
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