Improving outcomes for lung cancer patients in South West Sydney

By Linda Music

We don’t often hear about lung cancer in the media despite the fact that it kills more people in Australia each year than any other cancer. Logic would dictate that due to its high mortality rate, funding into research would be paramount. Sadly, lung cancer receives a fraction of research funding compared to other cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.

Despite the dismal statistics, CONCERT member, Professor Shalini Vinod and her team at Liverpool’s Cancer Therapy Centre in Liverpool Hospital, are working hard to conduct research with the aim of improving outcomes in lung cancer patients in South West Sydney.

But it’s a tough gig. With South West and Western Sydney having the highest incidence of lung cancer in NSW, having a dedicated team of oncologists and researchers has never been more important.

Much of Prof Vinod’s research is centred around data mining and prediction models in lung cancer. She explains her interest in this area is because much of lung cancer research is based on clinical trials with patients who do not share many of the characteristics of the patients seen at Liverpool. As a result, many lung cancer patients in SWS don’t receive guideline-based care because these guidelines are not as applicable to this population.

“In clinical trials, patients tend to be about 10 years younger with fewer co-morbidities,” she explains.

In fact, in her research Prof Vinod has shown that increasing age is a negative predictor for guideline treatment possibly due to the small amount of available data on treatment options for the elderly.

With only three percent of oncology patients enrolled in clinical trials, trying to translate the findings of this research to other patients is problematic. This is why the team is utilising the clinical data from their own patients, who represent the ‘real world’ population, to help predict patient survival with different treatment protocols.

“Using computer modelling, we can group patients into different risk categories and see which patients would have benefited from curative versus palliative radiotherapy.”

In addition to utilising data from their own patients, the team has collaborated with the MAASTRO clinic to develop the OzCAT (Australian computer assisted theragnostics) system to access data across multiple NSW cancer centres.

Professor Vinod explains that the system protects the individual privacy of patients whilst providing valuable information to guide clinical decisions.

Another area of research and interest is the impact that multidisciplinary teams have on lung cancer patient outcomes. In a review paper  published late last year, Prof Vinod and Dr Monique Heinke showed that multidisciplinary care had a positive impact on a number of lung cancer outcomes including improved survival for all stages of lung cancer.

“Lung cancer patients managed in a multidisciplinary setting are more likely to receive treatment for their cancer, be referred to palliative care services and be treated according to guidelines. In South West Sydney we have an active lung cancer multidisciplinary team who measure and feedback the quality of care we deliver in order to continually improve our models of care.”

Professor Vinod and her team are working tirelessly for their lung cancer patients. Despite the lack of research funding, they are utilising everything at their disposal to improve the outcomes for lung cancer patients in South West Sydney.

This article is reprinted with the permission of South West Sydney Research.