Research is the backbone of modern medicine, says Consultant Breast and Oncoplastic Surgeon Mohammed Absar.
Patients’ willingness to take part in research has led to the good quality treatments – backed up by strong evidence – which we have today.
Mr Absar points to the rapid progress that has been made in breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in the last 20-30 years as proof of the value of research.
As a trainee, he was struck by the way older women with breast cancer weren’t being offered radiotherapy routinely, even though it was well-established as having good results in preventing recurrence of cancer. “It is not acceptable in the 21st century that good treatments aren’t available to all,” he said. “We find most patients value research and can see it could offer them access to the most up to date treatments. Age is not a barrier any more and the best treatments are those that have good quality evidence behind them.”
He has been involved in research throughout his career and says it fits in well with his clinical practice at the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, where he is working with colleagues on several breast cancer studies. Current projects include three supported by Cancer Research UK:
- Treatment to the armpit for breast cancer – in early stage cancer treated with surgery, it’s common also to have surgery to remove lymph nodes in the armpit with the aim of preventing cancer recurring. This study is investigating whether this is necessary, what its side effects are and how it affects quality of life.
- Follow up mammograms for women over 50 who have had breast cancer – guidelines recommend that women under 50 have mammograms every year after treatment for breast cancer. This study is looking at whether this should be yearly or every two years.
- Whether aspirin can stop cancer coming back after treatment – this study is seeing if treatment with aspirin can help stop the recurrence of different types of cancer, including breast cancer.
He emphasised the major role nurses have to play in inviting patients to take part in studies and giving them the information they need to decide whether or not it is suitable for them. He added: “The most rewarding part of my job is helping patients. It is devastating to be told you have breast cancer so being able to offer the best available treatment is really important.
“Research brings new treatments which have the potential to benefit not only the patient in the research study but all future patients. Without research ideas and investigations, the rapid progress which has been made in the last 20-30 years in breast cancer would not have happened. There is still so much unknown about the cancer, treatment and especially how to cure one from it that we need more research to define what is best for patients and for revolutionising treatment as well.”