We speak to Dorothy Keefe, CEO of Cancer Australia.
What led you to work in lung cancer?
My very first job as a doctor in England was on a ward where many people died of lung cancer, because there was no treatment at the time. Experiences like this have influenced me every time I’ve made choices in my career; from beginning as a doctor, then as a specialist oncologist, and now in my role at Cancer Australia where we are striving to improve outcomes for all Australians affected by lung cancer.
What does an average day look like for you?
Cancer Australia is a federal government agency, so I have government-related work and the agency to run on a daily basis. I spend a lot of time engaging with our stakeholders –patients, their advocates and families and all of the professions involved with cancer care. I also regularly travel to hospitals, cancer centres and cancer institutes, such as the National Cancer Institute in the United States which I recently visited. I oversee the development of an extensive number of projects and programmes at the agency and have the privilege of being able to spend time on thought leadership in cancer control with the tremendous staff at Cancer Australia. In addition, I still do a small amount of clinical work. It’s an incredibly varied and fulfilling role.
Regarding lung cancer screening in Australia, what is working well and what could be improved?
Cancer outcomes in Australia are among the best in the world and survival rates are improving for most cancer types. However, this is not the story for every Australian.
A person’s risk of cancer, their experiences during diagnosis and treatment, and their survival are influenced by their background and personal circumstances, where they live, and the type of cancer they have. Such differences and variation are unacceptable, and Cancer Australia, alongside an extensive list of stakeholders, is developing the first national Australian Cancer Plan that aims to change this picture. It will set out the key priorities and areas to address over the next ten years to improve outcomes for Australians affected by cancer.
The principles underpinning this work include patient-centred care, reduction of outcome disparities, equity of health outcomes and parity of all cancer types.
Cancer Australia is currently undertaking continued scoping work on a national lung cancer screening programme and the Report on the Lung Cancer Screening enquiry was recently published.
What motivated you to join the Lung Cancer Policy Network?
I was interested in joining the Lung Cancer Policy Network because, while it is clear from the evidence that lung cancer screening is a viable undertaking, there are only a very small number of countries in the world that have rolled out a national lung cancer screening programme. It is a fabulous opportunity to connect with other thought leaders from around the world who are on the same journey – looking to introduce national lung cancer screening – so it was an invitation I couldn’t resist.
What would you like to see from the Lung Cancer Policy Network as it develops?
I would like to see the Network act as a catalyst for further research into and implementation of lung cancer screening, and to assist jurisdictions that don’t have the ability to do their own investigations into feasibility of lung cancer screening. In particular, to enable them to develop screening programmes and share information and insights, building on each other’s knowledge and expertise to make sure we are able to diagnose lung cancer at the earliest possible opportunity when it is most treatable, so more people can be cured.
What do you think is the most interesting or exciting research finding in recent years?
Two things are particularly interesting. One is all the research tipping towards lung cancer screening being worthwhile in terms of reducing lung cancer deaths. The introduction of low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scanning with computer-assisted diagnostics has meant that lung cancer screening has become more and more effective in terms of saving lives by earlier diagnosis, and at the same time less expensive, making the cost-effectiveness of a program more likely.
At the other end of the spectrum is the introduction of immunotherapy to treat lung cancer. Stage IV lung cancer has gone from universally poor outcomes to some long-term survivorship.
What do you like to do in your spare time, away from work?
I’m very fond of the theatre, literature, good food and wine, mostly in the company of my husband and my dog!
The Lung Cancer Policy Network brings together a unique mix of experts in lung cancer from around the world, united in their passion to eliminate lung cancer as a cause of death.
We regularly share profiles of our members so that you can find out more about what led them to work in lung cancer and what changes they would like to see in lung cancer prevention and care on a global level.
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