Clearing the smoke around lung cancer | Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
 In Lifehouse News

On Tuesday 26 November we held the last ChrisChat of 2019.

In a panel led by Professor Michael Boyer, specialists in the nursing, medical oncology and radiation oncology fields of lung cancer, and a lung cancer patient, came together to clear the smoke and stigma around this deadly disease.

All manner of topics were covered in the hour-long chat, from the guilt felt by lung cancer patients with a history of smoking, to the lack of funding seen in the field due to the associated stigma. Combination therapies for treating lung cancer was a focal topic of the discussion, as the specialists explained the intricacies of treating with a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and immunotherapy to cure the disease, or mitigate symptoms.

Medical oncologist Dr Steven Kao was one of the four panel members, and spoke on the leaps and bounds made in treatment options in the last ten years. “We’ve discovered the importance of targets in lung cancer because we’ve now got drugs to control the cancers. In the last six years we’re starting to understand that the immune system plays a very big part in controlling the cancer. We’re really leveraging our immune system to help to fight the cancer cells.”

Also present on the panel was patient Anthony Barrett who discussed his diagnosis of stage four lung cancer. Anthony shared with the audience his “miraculous” treatment success after being placed on a clinical trial for immunotherapy. “Five weeks after being diagnosed, before I started treatment, my tumour had gone from the size of an apricot to a granny smith apple – it had doubled in size. I went on the trial and now my cancer has reduced in size by 98%. It’s incredible.”

Lung cancer nurse specialist Amy O’Donnell highlighted the limited resources available in the lung cancer field, as she is just one of 12 lung cancer nurse specialists across Australia – an under resourced service when 12,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year. “I’m only one of 12 and there needs to be hundreds. We need to speak about lung cancer, to our friends and family, and raise the awareness and profile of lung cancer to gain us more resources and lung cancer nurse specialists in the country.”

Our fourth and final panellist, radiation oncologist Dr Ee Siang Choong discussed the benefits of radiation therapy in curing early stage lung cancer, or mitigating the painful symptoms of those in the later stages of their diagnosis. “Now we can see the cancer better, there are better MRIs and CT scans, and so we can plan treatment for patients we wouldn’t have been brave enough to treat previously.”

Throughout the chat, discussion was thrown out to the floor, where an engaged audience asked more compelling and thought-provoking questions of our panellists.

The ChrisChat ended with each panellist’s wish for the future, to which patient Anthony Barrett said, “If I had a wish it would be to take the model of Chris O’Brien Lifehouse and put it everywhere you go. If this establishment was the benchmark for medicine in the world I think it would just be a lot better place.”

Thank you to all of our panellists and audience members who attended the Chris Chat. We look forward to hosting more invigorating discussions on health care in 2020!

Pictured above (from left): Professor Michael Boyer, nurse specialist Amy O’Donnell, Dr Steven Kao, Anthony Barrett and Dr Ee Siang Choong.

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