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04 Feb 2020
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Executive Director's Message February 2020

  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
International days mobilise political will and resources

This is the third year that the VCCC has marked World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control.  Held on 4 February each year, World Cancer Day is a great opportunity to add our voice to an international chorus speaking out about a disease that affects almost everyone. The premise of this awareness day aligns strongly with our efforts as an alliance and this year’s activities have been a particularly good illustration of our focus on meaningful consumer inclusion.

Like most Australians, I have been distressed by the impact of the fires and extreme weather on our communities. At this time, when so many are engaged in protecting life and property Australia-wide, I would like to also acknowledge and extend my sympathies for the tremendous hurt experienced by many communities still under threat from fires or contemplating their recovery. As we mend together, the importance of the physical, mental and spiritual health of all our nation’s people, particularly for isolated and vulnerable people suffering hardship, has never felt more important. 

Cancer and Indigenous Populations: Time to End the Disparity

In this issue of Alliance, we highlight a new and compelling report published in January 2020 in the Journal of Global Oncology. It is the JGO’s first-ever special issue compiled by two exceptional Australian women, Professor and Director of Oncology, Monash Health and JGO associate editor Eva Segelov, and Professor Gail Garvey, Menzies School of Health Research. The compilation aims to promote understanding about disparities in cancer outcomes for Indigenous people and establishes some solid signposts for where our efforts need to go.  

Moves to introduce lung cancer screening nationwide

During January, we welcomed Professor Dorothy Keefe, Chief Executive Officer of Cancer Australia to the VCCC. Cancer Australia is leading a Lung Cancer Screening enquiry to investigate the feasibility for a national targeted lung cancer screening program. A Consultation Hub is open until 17 February 2020, and I encourage all with an interest to participate.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia. According to Cancer Australia it is estimated there will be more than 12,000 new cases of the disease diagnosed this year and more than 9,000 deaths from lung cancer. With more than 50% of lung cancer cases being diagnosed at an advanced stage, early diagnosis is critical to improving outcomes.  

Professor Keefe’s visit was a great opportunity to acknowledge the VCCC Research and Education Leads Program which has successfully driven consultation across clinical disciplines and alliance organisations within tumour streams, including lung. The structure and organisation of the Research and Education Lead Program, Lung Cancer has enabled us to propose a highly organised response to the enquiry.

VCCC Research and Education Lead for Lung Cancer, Associate Professor Gavin Wright will be among the national speakers at the Australian Lung Cancer Conference – 2020: A Time of Hope in Lung Cancer to be held in Melbourne later this month, which will no doubt generate more meaningful discussion and collaboration.

Breast cancer conference and public lecture

On 21 February, VCCC will also host a major breast cancer meeting, convened by Professor Bruce Mann and Dr Belinda Yeo, VCCC Research and Education Leads, Breast Cancer; Breast Cancer 2020: the Cutting Edge, preceded by a public lecture at the VCCC on 20 February. We are delighted that the Victorian Health Minister The Hon Jenny Mikakos will join us to open the symposium, recognising the impact of this disease that remains the most common cancer for women in Victoria.

New clinical trials propose less may be more

In the last 20 years survival rates for breast cancer have increased substantially and it was the first area where adjuvant systemic therapies defined a role for improvements in outcomes. We are now asking ourselves: Is less surgery better? What does the emergence of immune-based therapies mean for breast cancer? What do newer targeted therapies offer?

I am very much looking forward to meeting Dr Eric Winer who will be joining us from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the US and who will present the plenary lecture at the conference.  Dr Winer’s research in HER2 breast cancer offers a prospect of kinder, more gentle treatments. Using combinations of therapies at different times and with less surgical intervention are opportunities currently being tested in clinical trials – with good outcomes.

ASCO 2020 Advance of the Year

In news out this week, the American Society of Clinical Oncology has selected refinement of surgical cancer treatment as 'Advance of the Year', recognising emerging novel systemic therapies that have changed the role of cancer surgery. Aligning with what we are now beginning to see in breast cancer, ASCO's report highlights melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and pancreatic cancer as specific cancer types for which advances in systemic therapies have paved the way for less invasive cancer surgery.

Join us on International Women's Day

And finally, we will be celebrating International Women’s Day early next month with a special Monday Lunch Live event – International Women’s Day 2020: Women in Collaborative Leadership. I am pleased to say that the VCCC Board is challenging the trend for Australian company boards with our primarily female board. Indeed most of our board, committee chairs and highly qualified staff team are women. This is encouraging, however the advancement of women to senior academic levels is woefully disproportionate. This month the Australian Academy of Science in collaboration with Science in Australia Gender Equity will present the Catalysing Gender Equity 2020 two-day conference in Adelaide. Now is the time for all in the cancer community to get behind parity for women in STEM.   

Professor Grant McArthur
Executive Director

Image: Kate Silburn, VCCC Head Strategic Initiatives and Quality, Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO Cancer Australia, Professor Grant McArthur, VCCC Executive Director