29 September 2023

Sheffield Cancer Centre marks 50 years of world-leading care for rare cancer of the womb

50th birthday celebrations of Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Centre reunites staff and patients


  • Staff from the Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Centre, based at Weston Park Cancer Centre, have joined with patients to celebrate 50 years of life-changing care
  • Before the national programme was set up, the rare group of tumours, which grow from the tissue that forms during pregnancy, was invariably fatal – but thanks to specialised treatments it is now over 95% curableThe Sheffield Centre has led the way with pioneering new treatments, including those that will reduce both short- and long-term effects of intensive treatments
    • Women treated at the Centre, including 43-year-old academic Li Li who was diagnosed six days after giving birth, praised the team for saving their lives and providing compassionate care


Staff caring for women diagnosed with a rare group of tumours that develop during the womb during or following pregnancy have marked 50 years of the Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Disease Centre.

The Centre, which is based at Weston Park Cancer Centre, is one of two internationally renowned specialist national treatment centres, commissioned by NHS England, to provide life-changing care to patients with gestational trophoblastic disease.

Gestational trophoblastic disease is a little-known group of conditions which grow from the tissue that forms during pregnancy. This causes the tumours to produce elevated levels of hCG, a hormone normally made by the placenta.

Staff past and present joined patients and supporters to highlight Sheffield’s leading role in the national programme, which was set up in 1973 at a time when gestational trophoblastic disease was invariably fatal. Fast forward to 2023, and it is now over 95 per cent curable thanks to the development of effective treatments.

However, treatments remain intensive, with women undergoing months of life-saving treatments including chemotherapy directly following birth or following the loss of a pregnancy.

Patients also shared their stories of treatment, and researchers from the Centre highlighted how they are trialling new immunotherapy treatments. These aim to reduce the short- and long-term impacts of higher dose chemotherapy treatments, which are given in combination during standard treatment to kill cancerous tumours.

Other leading work includes lab research to better predict which patients will develop resistance to treatments and the development of an electronic personal health questionnaire to gather insights and data directly from patients on their whole experience of care, not just treatment. The tool is unique to Sheffield and they hope it will be used worldwide to further gain understanding of patient-reported outcomes.

The Sheffield Centre looks after patients across the north of England, and has supported more than 19,400 patients since it was first set up in 1973, with approximately 2,000 receiving treatment for resulting cancer to date.

All patients receive comprehensive screening, specialist nursing input and management, monitoring and follow-up from diagnosis. The Sheffield Centre is also the only one in the UK to have developed a specialist nurse consultant post. This role has been pivotal in championing the ongoing physical and emotional effects of the disease.

Dr Matt Winter, Consultant Medical Oncologist and Director of the Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Centre, Weston Park Cancer Centre, said: “Gestational trophoblastic disease is a really rare disease which most people have never heard of. We are incredibly proud of what has been achieved over the last 50 years and our role as the only centre in the north of England caring for patients with this devastating group of conditions. Our services and research are recognised internationally as world-leading so it is fantastic that this Centre is on the doorstep for the local population.”

Kam Singh, Nurse Consultant for the Sheffield Gestational Trophoblastic Centre, Weston Park Cancer Centre, said: “I feel very blessed and fortunate to be working in a team where everyone is empathetic and passionate about what they do. It is a real privilege to make a difference and we always try to put ourselves in the patient’s position, it’s such an emotive and horrendous disease, and there are lots of issues and uncertainty about what the future holds. Our service aims to make our patients’ journey as easy and bearable as possible.”

John Stewart, National Director for Specialised Commissioning at NHS England, said: “This is another example of the NHS in its 75th year offering world-leading treatments, with the Gestational Trophoblastic Disease service helping thousands of women with an extremely rare group of tumours. It is fantastic to see the continuous development of this highly specialised service funded by NHS England with almost all patients now able to survive.”

Academic Li Li, who lives in Sunderland, was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a trophoblastic disease that affects one in 50,000 pregnancies, just six days after giving birth on the 26 October 2022.

Speaking of her care, she said: "The staff at Weston Park were so brilliant and professional, I can’t thank the doctors and nurses in Sheffield enough, they gave me my life and saved me with my family.”

Another patient Rachel Hunter, 39, who was diagnosed in 2020 with a molar pregnancy which turned into a cancerous tumour, was also full of praise for the team: “Everyone at Weston Park was so compassionate, everything they did for me, it’s meant the world. It would have been a much harder journey without them." 

Approximately one-third of the 200 women treated through the National Gestational Trophoblastic Centre a year are treated at Weston Park Cancer Centre.


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