Left to Right
Prof Suzanne Chambers, Psycho-oncologist
Prof Penny Webb, Cancer Epidemiologist
Dr Catherine Shannon, Medical Oncologist
A / Prof Sandi Hayes, Exercise Physiologist
Throughout the course of the day, there was a lot of promising news about progress being made in immunology research, genomic research and drug development. Emerging treatments and methods are improving the quality of life and survival rates for both prostate and ovarian cancer, and research into the environmental triggers and effects of lifestyle are improving our ability to prevent cancer and / or improve its outcomes. Though this news was encouraging, there is still much more work to be done toward either developing cures for these types of cancer, or pushing these diseases toward becoming chronic manageable conditions. Moreover, there are a great many issues that need to be addressed in terms of patient care and treatment management, as well as with regard to support services for patients. Professors Suzanne Chambers and Penny Webb were joined by Associate Professor Sandi Hayes and Dr Catherine Shannon in a panel discussion about unmet needs in Prostate and Ovarian cancers.
Associate Professor Hayes is an Exercise Physiologist at the Queensland University of Technology. She looks at the transition back to normal life for cancer patients. Her research focuses on understanding the factors involved in improving quality of life. She is particularly interested in the role exercise plays in reducing side effects and the long term detrimental effects of treatments. Her three key recommendations are that
1) patients are educated about their treatments and what side effects they may experience from treatment;
2) surveillance of side effects should be integrated with surveillance of disease status; and
3) exercise should be formally integrated into cancer treatment and beyond.
Dr Catherine Shannon is a Medical Oncologist at the Mater Hospital, where she is involved in clinical trials in breast, lung and gynaecological cancers. She believes there is a major unmet need in rehabilitation efforts. Cancer survivors are the fastest growing population in Australia. 25,000 a year are being added to that population pool, and these people need better care once their treatment regime ends. She and Associate Professor Hayes agreed that limited funding for cancer survivorship is a significant issue.
Associate Professor Hayes explained that it was important for all to exercise regularly during and following cancer treatment, even those who were not regularly active before their cancer diagnosis. We know that exercise helps, though we don't yet know the precise mechanism behind it. We know that it can reduce the number and the severity of side effects, improves recovery times and can have psychological benefits. Research also shows that regular exercise post-diagnosis is associated with longer post cancer survival in some cancers. She recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week and this can come from a variety of exercise methods. For more information, visit the Exercise is Medicine website.
Professor Chambers, who investigates the psychosocial aspects of cancer recovery, agreed that exercise can have a big impact on mental health. "One of the best things we can do is have physical activity integrated into cancer care."
In addition to the need for more rehabilitation resources and focus, it was further agreed that there is an unmet need for rehabilitation facilities in regional areas. And indeed there is a critical need to reduce the variability in care based on location, socioeconomic status or the public versus private system. Patient outcomes can vary widely around these factors and it is crucial for more research to be done to identify the mechanisms responsible for the gaps in patient outcomes.
Both the OCA and PCFA are pushing toward providing more patient support. There are currently more than 150 prostate cancer support groups around the country and they will soon have 14 more specialist prostate cancer nurses, which will bring the total number of prostate cancer nurses to 26 nationally.
Another area in need of attention is the clinical trial infrastructure in Australia and the need for more research nurses. Funding for these positions is difficult to obtain, which limits the capacity for clinical research. There is also a need for more participation in clinical trials. Right now there is only a 2% patient participation rate in clinical trials, despite evidence that trial patients tend to have better outcomes.
There was a great deal of audience participation throughout the day and in the final panel session, and these people raised a host of thought-provoking issues including the need to get specialists more involved in support groups, the need for more physiotherapists to become familiar with cancer side effects, as well as a need for more information and support with regard to palliative care.