I was excited to attend the Oncology Professional Care Conference at the ExCeL Conference Centre in London from 23rd to 24th May 2023, as I’d not been to a conference of this size before, with a total of six theatres running talks in parallel. Since many of the attendees were clinical personnel, I was a slightly nervous that the talks would be beyond my level of understanding, however I was pleasantly surprised at the range and accessibility of the topics. This meant I had the opportunity to attend talks on topics I was familiar with along with some I knew very little about and came away with something new, giving me an overall deeper understanding of the scope of oncology.

Some of the sessions I found particularly interesting were panel discussions of patient experiences and health inequalities. The first of these panels involved patients sharing their personal stories of receiving a cancer diagnosis, treatment and returning to normal life in remission, and how they had gone on to use these experiences in patient advocacy. This was the first session of the conference I attended, which gave me a patient-centred outlook to consider when hearing other talks across the following two days.

The second panel discussion focused on the added complexity of a cancer diagnosis for vulnerable and diverse populations. The founder of the Errol McKellar Foundation discussed his aim to change perceptions of prostate cancer and increase early detection in Afro-Caribbean men, who have an increased prevalence of prostate cancer. A representative of Voices of Colour also discussed understanding and overcoming cultural barriers which may impact treatment decisions and engagement with health services.

Ultimately, these panels encouraged attendees to reflect on how patient experiences can be improved and highlighted special considerations that should be made. As I’ve never worked in a patient-facing role, hearing patients talk about their first-hand experiences was very impactful and gave me a valuable insight into the varied experiences and challenges of receiving a cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life in remission.

I also attended some talks on new cancer treatments, such as one on using food components known as nutraceutical chemoprevention agents, in this case high doses of omega-3 fatty acids, to prevent invasive progression of disease in patients with colorectal cancer with liver metastases. Another talk presented the EUROPAC study of familial pancreatic cancer, which prospectively identified individuals with a genetic increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer and offered them screening in order to increase early detection and distinguish pre-malignant lesions, ultimately increasing survival rates for high-risk individuals. It was interesting to learn more about research in the field of early and tertiary prevention of cancer and how this can reduce the need for more invasive treatments at a later disease stage.

Running in parallel to the conference was the Genomics and Precision Medicine Expo, and as part of this I attended a presentation on the introduction of pharmacogenetics into NHS clinical pathways for mental health. This discussed how pharmacogenetic testing can be used to predict how people will respond to certain medications in order to determine appropriate treatment plans. Although this topic was not in the field of oncology, I found it very interesting and it made me consider some of the challenges of implementing pharmacogenetic testing in the NHS such as cost, time and resource availability which also applies to oncology.

Further interesting presentations I attended evaluated the introduction of technology into patient treatment pathways, and into the management of clinical trial data. The first presented PROSAIC, a non-machine learning artificial intelligence tool which compares formal treatment guidelines against patient variables pulled from EMR to produce clinical treatment recommendations and prompt when patients are eligible for clinical trials. This addressed the main issues of the current MDT triage process, which is highly costly and time consuming, and demonstrated reduced variation in clinical performance and outcomes.

Of particular interest to me was a discussion on the EHR2EDC system as I had some prior knowledge of it, and it was in my area of expertise. They presented their pilot study which used dummy trial data to test the accuracy and usefulness of an automated data transfer system from EHR to EDC. The study found the system had 95-99% accuracy for transferring structured data points such as vital signs and lab values, with a positive user experience and relatively little training. The researchers aimed to expand the study further into other data such as AEs and infusions and implement it into real world studies and across other EDC systems. The talk encouraged me to consider the role of technology in the future of clinical trial data management and how we can use this to reduce burden on sites and increase data accuracy, but also the challenges that may come with this such as handling missing data and the need for data managers going forward. However, those with an understanding of the handling of trial data will always be a valuable asset to clinical research.

Alongside the panels and presentations, there were a range of exhibitors from pharmaceutical companies, charities, and medical equipment and services companies. I was interested to learn that many charities, such as Bowel Cancer UK and Breast Cancer Now, provide a valuable contribution to research through funding and conducting their own research projects. There was also a poster section of the exhibits, with presentations by the creators on the second day. I attended the poster presentation for a blood sample molecular profiling program to enhance recruitment to early phase trials, as I was familiar with this trial from my previous workplace and wanted to know how the trial was progressing.

Overall, I found the conference very insightful as it encouraged me to think beyond my own role and contribution in oncology, and broadened my understanding of advancements in oncology across patient experiences, clinical research, and technology. I would recommend the conference to any commercial, academic, and healthcare providers looking to become more competent both within and beyond their areas of expertise.

Author: Lydia Ainsworth

Published on 12 June 2023