Over eight years, the Day Oncology Unit at Macquarie University Hospital has gone from being a brand new unit to treating more than 300 patients per month and participating in international clinical trials.

Medical oncologist Dr Pirooz Poursoltan joined Macquarie University Hospital’s staff in 2010 when the hospital first opened its doors and not one patient had yet been seen.

Eight years later, Dr Poursoltan is one of the busiest medical oncologists in a unit that treats more than 300 patients per month and adheres carefully to best practice guidelines at all levels.

“We think our Day Oncology Unit is one of the best facilities in the area,” he said. “It’s extremely comfortable and friendly. Patients have easy access to consultants, specialty trained nurse and experienced medical oncology and clinical trials fellows.”

A Skilled and Caring Team

Over the years, Macquarie University Hospital has focused on recruiting outstanding oncologists, haematologists and oncology nurses.

Two additional on-site haematologists at Macquarie University Hospital, Robin Giorowski and Jonathan Blackwell, have recently joined Dr Ray McKinley, providing a full breadth of services for patients with haematological cancers. And oncology nurses Tabitha Kellock, Abby Fyfe and nurse practitioner Jenny Gilchrist lead a highly experienced nursing team.

Patients at Macquarie University Hospital also have access to state-of-the-art radiation oncology, including the only Gamma Knife in New South Wales.

One of the most important initiatives to be set up has been the multidisciplinary Team (MDT) structure for a number of oncology areas.

“It’s impossible to practice high-standard medical oncology in the absence of MDTs,” explained Dr Poursoltan. “These teams provide the structure for discussion and communication between all specialists involved in the care of a patient. Together, we get the best outcome for that person.”

Dr Poursoltan, along with radiologist Dr Kevin Ho-Shon, was instrumental in establishing the lung and gastrointestinal MDTs. Professors John Boyages and Andrew Davidson have established those in breast cancer and neurological cancers.

“It took about twelve months to get the first MDT properly established,” said Dr Poursoltan. “Now Macquarie University Hospital has an outstanding MDT record.”

Training and Education

On the academic and education front, another milestone was setting up the MD Program. The Oncology Day Unit plays an important role in helping to train local interns and fellows, as well as international fellows in oncology.

“Macquarie established the MD program from scratch,” Dr Poursoltan said. “It was highly rewarding to be able to create a new medical program incorporating the latest teaching skills.”

Clinical Trials for New Therapies

Another reason for the success of Macquarie University Hospital’s oncology unit is its involvement in clinical trials. Under the guidance of Clinical Trials Director Professor Howard Gurney, the unit participates in more than 30 trials involving a range of cancer types. The Hospital is involved in Phase I, II and III trials in lung, GI, breast and genitourinary malignancies.

Macquarie University Hospital is the only New South Wales site participating in the liver-targeted therapy for treatment of cholangiocarcinoma. The treatment involves tiny radioactive beads – smaller than the width of a human hair – administered directly to the liver to attack tumours.

A small catheter is passed through the groin’s main artery to the liver, where millions of the microspheres that have a radioactive isotope attached to them are released into the tumour’s blood supply.

“This is a unique study,” said Dr Poursoltan. “It is the first time a large randomised trial has been conducted to assess the effectiveness of trans-arterial radioembolisation in treating what is typically a very aggressive form of liver cancer.

“The approach aims to maximise the benefit of the therapy while reducing the side effects because of its targeted approach.”