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Care and Research: Providing the Best Available Therapies for Patients Today

December 9, 2014

Welcome back! After giving you a sense last week of where I’ve come from and how I’ve ended up in B.C. I thought I would let you know what I currently do at the BC Cancer Agency.

I am very privileged to be the overall lead for the medical physics group at the BC Cancer Agency. I have been doing this since 2004. There are about 50 medical physicists working in the BC Cancer Agency's six centres across the province. My main objective as the leader of this group is to encourage an environment where three main things are achieved:

  1. That we do excellent clinical medical physics ensuring that radiation treatments in the province meet our patient’s needs,
  2. That we contribute to development of better treatment techniques through our research,
  3. That we are involved in training the next generation of medical physicists to serve our province and elsewhere.

Each of the six cancer centres has a medical physics group that is led by a local medical physics leader. I am the local leader for the medical physics group in Victoria. I am also the director of our medical physics graduate training program jointly run by the University of Victoria’s Physics and Astronomy Department and the Agency. This program currently has 12 PhD and two MSc students. There is another graduate training program at the University of British Columbia that has strong links to the BC Cancer Agency Vancouver Centre.

Most patients who come to the BC Cancer Agency would be unaware of the work that is done in the medical physics groups because so much of it happens “behind the scenes.” It involves radiation measurement, calculation or treatment design and this is all complete before actual treatment begins. For me, the empowering part of this work is that it is a real care team effort with our radiation therapist and radiation oncologist colleagues. So although physicists don’t come into direct patient contact generally, we are acutely aware of the importance of our role in optimising specific radiation treatments for individual patients. It is not often that physicists of any kind get to help fellow human beings in the way that we do, a real privilege indeed!

Take a look at the BC Cancer Agency’s signage outside any of our cancer centres or even at the top of our main webpage and you’ll notice immediately under our name are the words “Care and Research”. I am a firm believer in the concept of all members of the care team building research into their daily routine. I think this makes us better caregivers because we don’t just accept the current routine treatment techniques and keep on doing them. We constantly ask questions like, “why are we doing it this way?” or saying things like, “I can see a way that we can do this better for our patients.”

Coupling care and research is actually a powerful thing in a radiation oncology environment. In doing so in Victoria (and in other Agency centres) we have been successful in leading the way provincially, nationally and internationally in starting new treatment techniques that improve outcomes for cancer patients receiving radiation therapy. This type of work is important because radiation therapy (with or without additional chemotherapy) is still second only to surgery as the most common method of treating cancer.

There is still room to improve radiation treatment outcomes so that we can offer our patients better cure rates and less side effects. When we are successful through our research in doing this it means that patients who walk through our doors today to get cancer treatment at the BC Cancer Agency are getting the best therapies available.