Expert Review: COSA Public Forum 2017

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A small but enthusiastic group of people gathered on the eve of the COSA ASM for the annual Public Forum on Cancer. The audience was a mix of those with a personal experience of cancer and their supporting carers.

The first half of the program offered three presentations about innovations in cancer care delivered in a manner that was focused on the relevance to consumers of these developments. Professor Nicholas Wilcken from Sydney West Cancer Network spoke about clinical trials: how and why they are important to advancing cancer treatment, how they are developed and the way in which patients now, and in the future, can benefit from participating in trials.

The Public Forum provides an opportunity for consumers to interact with key oncology health professionals in topics of direct relevance to their care and well-being. This year’s offering did not disappoint!

Professor Sabe Sabesan from Townsville Cancer Centre reported on the evolving use of technology to improve cancer care delivery, especially to rural and remote patients. Oncology tele-health technology is already in use to enable treatment of patients in their local health facilities; thus minimising the disruption and expense of commuting to city-based cancer centres. Now, the way is being opened for clinical trial participation via tele-health. Not only will this enable easier access to clinical trials for all patients and increase participation by rural and remote patients: but it has the additional potential to improve recruitment to cutting edge treatments by allowing adequate numbers to participate in trials for some of the less common cancers. Typically, these trials are difficult to operationalise in Australia because of the small numbers of eligible patients in each cancer treatment centre. By combining the resources of many cancer centres across different states recruitment of an adequate number of patients is more feasible.

Dr Alex Menzies from the Melanoma Institute of Australia concluded the first half of the forum by speaking passionately of the potential for new immunotherapy treatments to revolutionise survival figures for cancers that have traditionally been difficult to cure. The pioneering work has been with diseases such as metastatic melanoma and lung cancer, but Dr Menzies sees potential for future developments that will target a broader range of cancers by offering treatments that work differently from standard chemotherapy and are frequently well tolerated with an acceptable side-effect profile.

The second half of the forum focused on the well-being of people with cancer. I spoke of the importance of carers in supporting patients throughout their treatment and beyond. Not only are these so-called “silent partners” crucial to maintaining the physical and emotional quality of life of patients but it is important to recognise that carers have distinct and unique needs for access to resources and support.

Elisabeth Kochman and Murray McLachlan spoke about the activities of Cancer Voices NSW, “the voice of people affected by cancer”. Cancer Voices was founded in 2000 and is the peak cancer consumer stakeholder organisation in NSW. The scope and range of its activities have continued to expand since its inception, and now include input into decision-making in the areas of diagnosis, information, treatment, research, support and care; providing a consumer voice across the cancer trajectory.

Annie Miller outlined the extensive programs offered by Cancer Council NSW to support patients and their carers. The forum finished with a dynamic presentation from Prue Cormie about the benefits of exercise to all people, including those being treated for cancer. So powerful is the impact of exercise in all stages of treatment and recovery, Prue believes that exercise prescription should be considered as “medicine” in a similar manner to other treatment modalities.

The Public Forum provides an opportunity for consumers to interact with key oncology health professionals in topics of direct relevance to their care and well-being. This year’s offering did not disappoint!

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About Author

Kim Hobbs

Kim Hobbs is a Clinical Specialist Social Worker for the Department of Social Work/Department of Gynaecological Cancer at Westmead Hospital. She holds a Masters degree in Social Work and has been working at Westmead Centre for Gynaecological Cancer in NSW since its inception in 1994. She is a COSA Council member representing OSWA.

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