Discover the latest progress in cancer research, education and clinical care delivered by the MPCCC.

All News
October 12, 2023

What these leading oncologists and researchers want you to know this IWD

Women are still facing barriers accessing certain cancer treatments and testing in some parts of Victoria. Last week, Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Consortium (MPCCC) together with Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) brought together a powerhouse panel to discuss equity issues this International Women’s Day.

The panel discussion, titled “Women’s Health and Career Empowerment: A Pathway to Equity,” was hosted by Dr Tu Nguyen-Dumont and featured a welcome by Professor John Carroll, Director of Monash BDI.

The panel discussed access to treatment and genomic testing and equity of outcomes for women throughout Victoria.

Our host Tu began by asking the panel, how can we improve access to genomic testing?

A/Prof Yoland Antill explained that without readily available funded access to molecular testing, it will be difficult.

“With molecular testing, one in five women will have an identifiable alteration in tumours, this would send them down different treatment pathways. Not everyone knows this sort of testing is available, and if you don’t know this information is missing from your pathology report, you won’t ask for it to be done. So, there is an element of community awareness that has to happen.”

“Universal testing of tumours is something we need to look towards,” A/Prof Antill said.

Dr Michelle White added that molecular profiling of early-stage breast cancer is part of standard care internationally with hormone positive breast cancer patients, to try and identify those that can be saved from having chemotherapy.

“In Australia, it’s not a funded test, and there’s huge inequity. Those who can afford the test have access, but unfortunately the majority of patients cannot.”

“As an oncologist, one of the worst things in my job is discussing money with my patients, and they’re very uncomfortable discussions because there is really an onus on us. So many patients would perceive that you want them to have that test because you’re talking about it, and you’re putting them in a circumstance that is a financially distressing situation. It’s just making their current situation worse, and it is incredibly frustrating that we’re not able to offer that to our patients,” explained Dr White.

Our host Tu then raised the topic of access to treatment for all women in Victoria, and equity of care.

A/Prof Zee Wan Wong said it is known that there is inequity in terms of cancer outcomes between regional and metropolitan Victoria.

“The overall cancer survival differs by about 5 percent depending on where you live in Victoria. Ability to access sub-specialty cancer care and clinical trials are really important and have been shown to improve cancer outcomes.”

“The lobbying and advocacy efforts are fantastic, but I think there is still a lot more work that needs to be done as we are not yet seeing the result that we want to see for our patients,” A/Prof Wong said.

Dr Michelle White added that at international conferences they hear about new exciting drugs, but so do their patients because they appear on the front page of the newspaper.

“We really struggle in Australia with the lag time. I think that is still a huge ongoing challenge to somehow make that process more streamlined, because when you’ve got a patient sitting in front of you that you know would benefit from that drug, and you know that access to that drug is still months, if not year away, that’s absolutely heart breaking for that patient,” explained Dr White.

Host, Dr Tu then introduced the panel’s second discussion topic, gender equity at work within hospitals and research labs.

A great debate was sparked by Dr Sojo who suggested that if you want to progress your career, it’s not necessarily about going to a leadership training program that is consuming time that could be used on writing papers.

‘It’s about taking the right type of opportunities. For example, the project where you get to learn new things, to show other people how good you are, what you do, projects that are well resourced and where you get to connect with very important people inside your lab and also outside your lab. Those are worthwhile.” Dr Sojo said.

Dr Reka joined in this discussion, and said she believes that every proposal and research application should include a gender impact assessment, in order to start making a difference.

A/Prof Kylie Gorringe added that Peter Mac now allocates money for parental leave in addition to grant money, so women are not sacrificing your grant funding to pay for your parental leave, which she believes is a big help.

The panel then finished by offering their words of wisdom to working women this international women’s day:

“Find your people, find your mentor and if you can’t, you may be that mentor for someone else,” Dr Mangalore.

“I believe mental and physical fitness outside the work helps you achieve what you need to do inside the work,” A/Prof Antill.

“Make sure you’ve got a good mentor,” Dr White.

“Family support and peer support is really, really important,” A/Prof Wong

“In tough situations with people, reframe your mind and say to yourself, I’m going to become the leader that no one around me is,” Dr Sojo.