Oesophageal cancer affects more than 1,600 Australians each year, and men are more likely to be diagnosed with this cancer than women.

This April is Oesophageal Cancer Month, an opportunity to shine a light on this rare gastro-intestinal cancer and share what Peter Mac’s researchers are doing to improve treatments and outcomes.

Currently, the standard treatment for oesophageal cancer – a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by surgery – is curative in only 10–20 per cent of patients. For many, relapse within months or a few years is common, at which time no standard treatment options are reliably effective.

Co-Head of Peter Mac’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Program, Professor Wayne Phillips and laboratory Group Leader, Associate Professor Nicholas Clemons lead a collaborative team of scientists and clinicians focused on improving outcomes for people affected by oesophageal cancer.

The “bench to bedside” approach integrates fundamental discovery research in Peter Mac’s laboratories through to clinical based studies in the hospital, and is partly funded by generous donations to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Foundation. Below are some of the exciting research projects currently underway at Peter Mac.

Understanding gene mutations

Associate Professor Nicholas Clemons is using a sophisticated genetic tool called CRISPR to determine how different gene mutations cause cancer in the oesophagus and then identify new personalised cancer treatment options for each patient.

Origins of Barrett’s oesophagus

Cancers in the oesophagus can arise from a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus. Professor Wayne Phillips is leading a study in collaboration with Associate Professor Clemons to determine the origins of Barrett’s oesophagus, which will enable the future development of effective strategies for early intervention or prevention of oesophageal cancer.

Detecting recurrence early

In research published in the journal Annals of Surgery, Associate Professor Clemons and Professor Phillips in collaboration with Associate Professor Cuong Duong revealed how a simple blood test can be used to detect cancer recurrence before any symptoms appear. Early detection means that patients could receive additional treatment earlier. Researchers are also investigating if this same blood test could help identify when surgery could be avoided as a treatment option.

Improving surgery precision

Research led by Associate Professor Duong explores the potential of using special fluorescent dyes to guide surgery to remove stomach and oesophagus cancer. The aim of this study is to improve the precision of surgery and reduce post-operative complications, thereby improving quality of life and long term outcomes.

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