Cancer research is no place for secrets


LANGUAGE and communication are vital in the fight against cancer, according to eminent oncologist Professor Gordon McVie. As guest speaker at the Old Elizabethan Association lecture lunch on Saturday, Prof. McVie called for openness among researchers and stressed the importance of making information available and understandable to patients.

‘It’s very difficult for people when all they know is that that their mother died early of breast cancer, they have two daughters themselves and a sister in Australia and they don’t know the language, the medical speak,’ he said.

‘The best way a doctor can learn the language is from the patient – always listen to the patient. There are also initiatives now where patients are being trained, on courses, to understand what doctors are saying. The Americans are much more on track with this than we are.’

Better understanding between patients and doctors would lead to better decisions, he said, suggesting that patient councils could be an effective way to empower people.

Prof. McVie was formerly joint director-general of Cancer Research UK, but resigned after speaking out against New Labour and its decision to allow tobacco advertising to continue in Formula 1 racing.

He now works for the Institute of Oncology in Milan and he is the director-general of cancer intelligence at the Wales Cancer Centre.

Alongside that he is the founding managing editor of, an online journal aimed at patients.

‘I really believe in getting the information out there fast,’ he said.

He said the secrecy between researchers and their unwillingness for commercial reasons to share their information had inhibited progress in the fight against cancer, but the practice of keeping research under wraps was not necessary and should end.

GEP Article by Nicci Martel 3/11/2008

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