When Australia was locked down during the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr Mark Stevens and his colleagues at North West Private Hospital began researching solutions to a major problem.
How could they continue to provide care during the restrictions of a pandemic, while minimising risks to patients and staff?
“We still had to treat a cohort of patients who developed cervix cancer,” said Dr Stevens, a gynaecological cancer specialist.
“Although these patients are not common in first-world countries, their treatments are highly complex and resource-intensive.”
Dr Stevens and his team decided to trial a modified version of the Brisbane hospital’s brachytherapy program, where a sealed radiation source is placed near the patient’s tumour.
“We needed to truncate or simplify the process to achieve equal outcomes: one insertion, one theatre slot, one admission, and one overnight stay,” he said.
“We achieved the same cure rates and low toxicity as we had historically when we had a very complex program.
“We’ve proven this pathway is equally efficacious and equally safe and uses far less resources. In fact it uses half the resources at half the hospital cost.
”The cost for a single-insertion brachytherapy treatment is under $3,500 – compared to over $6,000 for the conventional treatment.”
Dr Stevens’ research, recently published in Radiation Oncology Journal, is the type of work being celebrated in September by North West Private’s owner, Ramsay Health Care.
Now in its third year, Ramsay Research Month aims to recognise the ground-breaking investigations taking place at its facilities across Australia.
In 2023, more than 550 Ramsay doctors, nurses and allied health employees are involved in over 1,750 active projects to find new treatments, medicines, therapies and devices, including 250 clinical trials focusing on cancer, mental health, orthopaedics and cardiology.
“The number of clinical trials we support has increased 11 percent this year and we consistently receive requests for research support,” Ramsay Hospital Research Foundation CEO Nicola Ware said.
“We are delighted to highlight the critical role of health and medical research in supporting healthier communities and to celebrate the incredible advancements being made to improve patient outcomes.”
Ramsay has already hosted one public webinar this month, exploring mental health studies, and another will take place on Monday 11 September 2023 looking at advances in cancer research.
Dr Stevens said cervix cancer in Australia was most common with migrant women, under-resourced locals, or First Nations people.
“At the two-year mark, which is the minimum follow-up for our cohort, we’ve proven that we actually cure these women, with minimum downside risk,” he added.