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Australian and New Zealand Head & Neck Cancer Society
19th Annual Scientific Meeting
12 - 14th October 2017
A successful sponsorship application allowed Dani Donegan to attend the 2017 Australia and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Society conference held in Brisbane in October 2017. Here is her report:
Thank you to the OHNNG Committee for sponsoring my attendance at the ANZHCS scientific meeting in Brisbane in October. It was an excellent meeting with keynote speakers from around the world. The meeting officially opened on Thursday 12th October but there were a number of pre-meeting workshops held on Wednesday. Unfortunately I was unable to attend these as I worked on Wednesday and flew up to Brisbane straight after work.
The first session consisted of keynote speakers and two of the most interesting was Dr Luc Morris from the USA and Dr David Rosenthal also from the USA. Dr Morris was very entertaining but made some very interesting points about the concerning increase in thyroid cancers and the suggestion that perhaps we are over diagnosing. It was certainly a thought provoking suggestion. He pointed to a massive increase in the diagnoses of thyroid cancer in South Korea ever since that country introduced a thyroid ultrasound as an option when people were having routine screening. Dr Morris’ suggestion that many of these thyroid cancers are “micro cancers” (less than 1cm) and we may be putting people at risk by operating on them when we could just “watch and see”. He pointed to statistics that the overall death rate from thyroid cancer has not changed even though the diagnoses has escalated. The US has adopted a “less is more philosophy in very small thyroid cancers”.
Dr Rosenthal gave a very interesting talk on Proton Therapy for Head & Neck Cancers. Proton therapy is an emerging form of radiation treatment. According to Dr Rosenthal protons reduce the beam toxicities in three ways:
This allows for less dose delivered to normal tissues before and after the tumour, preserving normal tissue and concentrating dose delivery to the tumour itself.
This is important in treating H&N cancers as it is often the toxicities in the treatment area that cause the most problems for patients, such as severe mucositis. Dr Rosenthal indicated that in his experience using Proton radiation therapy, patients suffer far less mucositis than patients having the current standard Photon Therapy (IMRT).
The next session had a lively debate with the topic “Radiotherapy is overused in early stage head & neck SCC - the pendulum has swung too far”. The debates at an ANZHNCS meeting are always highly entertaining and often very funny. This debate was no different. The team on the overused side narrowly won the debate.
After lunch the meeting split with concurrent sessions focusing on Allied Health and Surgical / Treatment modalities, which is always causes conflict for me as I want to attend them all! Many of the talks were only 10 minutes long so it was difficult to duck out from one auditorium to the other for only one talk & then get back in time to listen to another talk. The rooms were not next to each other so it often involved leaving a talk before it was finished to get to the other room in time. In the end it was easier to stay for the entire session & forgo some of the talks I would have liked to listen to. Unfortunately there were no nursing speakers & I noted a heavy emphasis on Speech Therapy & Dietetics. I decided to attend the Allied Health sessions as the topics sounded like the would be interesting and were relevant to my areas of interest in H&N cancer. Unfortunately many of them did not live up to my expectations and were quite light-weight in terms of research so I was a little disappointed that I missed the surgical talks.
Friday was another full day with an interesting discussion about a number of H&N cancer cases presented to a ‘tumour board’ which allowed people to give their opinions on the best treatment options. Dr Bruce Ashford also gave a presentation on Beyond Five, which is always a good reminder of that excellent resource. The remainder of the day followed a similar line as the day before with concurrent sessions, creating a dilemma as to which to attend. Again I chose to attend the Allied Health sessions and there were some interesting topics discussing; nasogastric vs PEG feeding; distress & QOL associated with H&N lymphoedema; and a home based telehealth service. The lymphoedema talk was about a research project looking at the distress experienced by H&N patients with lymphoedema and if this distress reduced with the implementation of a 22 week lymphoedema program. The study showed that distress did reduce with the implementation of this program.
Saturday was a half day and by far the best of the entire program. The first session had concurrent sessions and I attended the session focusing on sexulaity in H&N cancer as well as another tumour board. The first talk looked at ‘Oral HPV infection and associations with lifestyle factors and sexual behaviour’. This was an insightful look at the rate of HPV oral infection over a 12 month period and the ability of a person to clear the infection. It looked at the number of sexual partners and whether those partners were opposite sex, same sex or both. The results of the study were very early & had not been published yet but it showed a significant correlation with the number of sexual partners (the more partners the higher the risk) to the chance of infection. It also showed the majority of those infected & unable to clear the infection were likely to be men who have sex with multiple both opposite & same sex partners . An interesting aside was that all people who had been vaccinated with Gardasil could still be infected by HPV but ALL would clear the infection within 12 months. The speaker was hopeful these results could be used to develop further research and potentially lead to a saliva screening tool for HPV.
The tumour board was very interesting as it focused on survivorship and one of the people to speak was a young man who was a H&N cancer survivor. He gave an emotional account of his diagnosis, treatment & his life after treatment. I always enjoy hearing from patients as it really puts what we do into perspective. It is easy for us to get caught up in our work & forget that what our patients go through often continues on after they finish treatment.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the meeting. It is heartening to know there is so much research going on in Australia aimed at providing better outcomes for our H&N cancer patients. I always come away inspired when I attend these sort of meetings/conferences as it reinforces my desire to work in this area of nursing. Thank you again to OHNNG for providing the opportunity to attend this meeting and to enhance my knowledge in the field of H&N cancer.