Giving targeted treatment to women facing gynaecological cancers

Every individual reacts differently to the news about their cancer. However, in the experience of many, a cancer diagnosis opens up an appalling and frightening new reality where uncertainty reigns. In the case of ‘rare’ cancers, this sense of the unknown is felt more keenly.

Marion Patten was diagnosed with stage 2 ovarian cancer in October 2017.

Marion was aware of the challenges ahead of her as many gynaecological cancers can be tricky to diagnose and treat. Despite all the best efforts on hand, she died in November, 2019.

Her husband Wayne was left with the ordeal of grief and loss but was determined to honour his wife by continuing their collective passionate belief in medical research being able to create positive change.

Wayne reflects on life with Marion and recalls a woman who was devoted to her animals, especially her dogs and loved her chosen charities. She would laugh at a good joke or anything that was funny.

Together, they came to realise that helping others creates happiness.

Wayne does not believe he is doing anything new or special.

“I am only following in her footsteps. She simply did not want others to experience what she went through,” he said.

Patients and their families are important resources for ideas as well as inspiration to help guide researchers and clinicians in improving cancer-related care. Every case and every story helps inform the science.

Professor Claire Scott

Professor Claire Scott is working on research that will help women facing ovarian cancer.
Photo credit: WEHI. 1G Royal Pde Parkville 3052 VIC Australia.

Collectively, rare cancers are responsible for at least one third of all cancer deaths in Australia.

Each patient is different and the ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment is no longer the only option available.

Unravelling next generation sequencing technologies has ushered new approaches in determining the most appropriate treatments for each person living with Ovarian cancer.

In the case of gynaecological cancers, one development has been to offer whole genome sequencing (WGS) to patients.

This sequencing allows clinicians to match up the unique cancer with new targeted therapies that are coming into use.

The 100 genomes project has offered time and hope to women. Thanks to the generous support of Wayne and Marion, implemented with Marion’s wishes and continuing in Marion’s memory, 102 women have been able to gain access to genome sequencing resulting in either participation in new clinical trials or improved access to existing medications.

Professor Claire Scott leads the project from her ovarian cancer laboratory at WEHI and is a medical oncologist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Women’s Hospital. As part of her work, Professor Scott recognises the transformative impact of philanthropic support.

“We have set our sights on testing at least 164 rare cancer cases in the hope of realising that many of these cancers, once analysed, can be treated,” she said.

Professor Claire Scott

Professor Claire Scott.
Photo credit: WEHI. 1G Royal Pde Parkville 3052 VIC Australia. 

“By working closely with all our networks, we are actively improving access for women with gynaecological cancers to targeted therapies. We expect drug access to continue to improve for patients each year. We are also reaching into regional areas throughout Australia through regular courier services transporting fresh tumour material to the centre at WEHI for whole genome sequencing.”

Giving is important to Wayne. He is happy knowing he is helping women like Marion, and he says it is vital for everyone to ‘give back’.

“Without donations and philanthropic support to medical research, life-saving projects such these could not be financed and would not proceed. The lives that are saved and extended, are a testament to the power of giving.”

Wayne and Marion Patten together established ongoing support for research through the Marion Patten Ovarian Cancer Research Fund, the Marion Patten Fund and the Wayne and Marion Patten Fund for Gynaecological Cancer Research at the University of Melbourne.

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