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Thea's story: finding new treatments for stomach cancer

Thea Towell has stomach cancer and is taking part in research at Addenbrooke's to find new treatments and help other patients in the future.

Thea Towell
Thea Towell

"I was told it was inoperable, incurable and I had months to live."

Thea Towell

For 70-year-old Thea, diagnosis came as a huge shock in December 2019, just before Christmas.

She wasn't in pain and had few symptoms, but was losing weight fast and was sent for hospital tests by her GP.

Doctors soon discovered a stage 4 tumour in her stomach, incurable and inoperable, with the cancer spread to her liver as well.

"I was told I had probably had the tumour for about year, that is was inoperable, incurable and I had months to live. The news came totally out of the blue as I'd had no symptoms, it was just devastating."

Thea Towell and Dr Elizabeth Smyth


Thea started chemotherapy and standard treatment.

In August 2022 she was put forward for a new drug trial at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH).

Since October 2022 she's been coming to CUH every 3 weeks for trial treatment and monitoring tests.

"Each visit to the hospital I see the same kind and friendly faces which is so reassuring."

Thea Towell

"I have been looked after incredibly well and monitored closely, having regular tests including CT scans, bloods tests and echocardiograms."

"I've also been cared for by a team with many different skills and specialties which has made the whole experience really positive."

"I don't plan too far head because eventually my condition will worsen but I have a good quality of life at the moment, so it's a case of carrying on and enjoying life until something changes."

Dr Lizzie Smyth
Dr Elizabeth Smyth, consultant in gastro-intestinal oncology at CUH.

"It's thanks to people like Thea that we can make progress."

Dr Elizabeth Smyth

Leading the research is Dr Elizabeth Smyth, a consultant in gastro-intestinal oncology at CUH. She said:

"Thea is a remarkable person and it's a privilege to have her involved in research that could really make a difference."

"Sadly, most patients in the UK with stomach cancer are diagnosed with cancer that cannot be cured by surgery. In the past, survival for patients with advanced disease was less than a year.   

"However, in recent years we have developed new therapies including immunotherapy and targeted drugs which are starting to improve survival rates."  

Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital
Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital - architect image

"If you're given the chance to take part in research, I say go for it!"

Thea Towell

Research will be at the heart of our region’s new specialist cancer hospital, planned for the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital is bringing together clinical expertise from Addenbrooke's Hospital with cutting-edge research from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and the University of Cambridge.  This will mean patients will directly benefit from the latest innovations in cancer science.