Surgery is a central tenet of cancer care, with around 60% of cancer patients requiring this as part of their treatment. Peter Mac's Professor Bernhard Riedel will lead an international study that will determine if the type of anaesthetic used in cancer surgery affects patient recovery and survival rates.

The VAPOR-C (Volatile Anaesthesia and Perioperative Outcomes Related to Cancer) Trial, will compare two common forms of general anaesthetic used in cancer surgery – inhaled gas (such as sevoflurane) and total intravenous (given via a drip) anaesthesia with propofol, combined with or without intravenous lignocaine (a local anaesthetic agent being used for its anti-inflammatory properties).

Prof. Riedel says that to date, limited pre-clinical and retrospective clinical data from over the past decade suggests that patients who received intravenous anaesthetic may have a slightly reduced risk of their cancer returning with long term follow-up after surgery.

"To verify this in a scientifically robust manner a large, multi-centre study is needed to definitively answer this question," says Prof Riedel who is Peter Mac’s Director of the Department of Anaesthesia, Perioperative and Pain Medicine.

"This will provide data robust enough to determine whether we need to change international guidelines.

"This is especially important as findings from small and retrospective studies are often refuted by larger well-conducted trials."

The VAPOR-C Trial received $4.88 million funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in their latest grant allocation round.

The study will involve 5,700 patients requiring surgery, will focus on colorectal and lung cancers, and will take up to five years to complete.

Prof. Riedel said it was important to note that general anaesthesia – in either inhaled or intravenous form – is very safe in Australia and an integral part of surgery, with no clear evidence to date to suggest superiority of one over the other in cancer surgery.

So, for patients soon to undergo cancer surgery, the best course at this time is for their anaesthetist to use the anaesthetic technique they are most experienced with.

"The VAPOR-C study, funded by the NHMRC, affords the valuable opportunity for further improve the safety of anaesthesia," Prof Riedel also says.

 The trial also draws on support from the University of Melbourne, and follows an earlier pilot study funded by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation and the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) Research Foundation.