Primary care cancer research ‘down under’

Dr Sam Merriel, Junior Faculty and Clinical Research Fellow based at the University of Exeter, talks about his recent trip to Melbourne on a CanTest Travelling Fellowship.

The challenges faced by GPs and primary care clinicians within the NHS across the cancer continuum from prevention and early diagnosis to survivorship and end of life care are not unique to the UK. Cancer affects people from all walks of life around the globe. In Australia, the types of cancers most often diagnosed are similar to that of the UK, with prostate cancer by far having the highest incidence of all cancer types amongst men in both countries. With my CanTest funded work focusing on the role of multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) for prostate cancer diagnosis in primary care, a visit to Professor Jon Emery and his Cancer in Primary Care unit at the University of Melbourne was a wonderful opportunity to understand the issues around prostate cancer diagnosis in another country.

Australia has some world leaders in prostate cancer research and treatment, and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time with urologists, radiologists, GPs and researchers working in this field. I got to understand the prostate cancer diagnostic pathway in the Australian healthcare system, and the ways that mpMRI is currently being used. I also gleaned insights into the role of the GP in detecting prostate cancer early and supporting their patients through the diagnostic process.

Many of these people were based at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC), which is an awe-inspiring and truly unique facility that brings clinicians, scientists, and patients all together under the same roof. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, clinical trials, and cutting edge research all happen in the VCCC, where Prof Emery’s team are also based. Working in the VCCC, it is clear that everyone in the building is working towards the goal of improving cancer outcomes for patients and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

The VCCC also played host to the Primary Care Collaborative Cancer Clinical Trials Group (PC4) Scientific Symposium. Primary care cancer researchers from across Australia and New Zealand came to present their latest research covering a diverse range of topics including AI in cancer diagnosis, cancer inequalities in the Maori population of New Zealand, and genetic risk profiling for bowel cancer screening. The PC4 community mirrored that of the VCCC, and CanTest, in their clear values of community and collaboration, working together with a collective spirit to improve cancer care for patients.

It was a wonderful experience to spend time with Prof Emery and his team, and to gain new knowledge and ideas about prostate cancer diagnosis and primary care cancer research. I have established new networks and collaborations from this visit, and I plan to return to Melbourne in August for the 20th Asia-Pacific Prostate Cancer conference to present some of my work and build on my newfound connections.

The CanTest Travelling Fellowships are designed to support visits by Junior Faculty to partner CanTest institutions, or to attend conferences and courses. The aim is to enhance research skills and expertise in early detection research, as well as fostering links and collaborations across international boundaries.

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