FOR more than 30 years, Professor Jim Denham has been instrumental in improving the detection and survival rates of prostate cancer in the Hunter.
Since he started at the Calvary Mater Newcastle in 1987, the radiation oncologist has cared for hundreds of Hunter patients - all while fighting to find better treatment options for men with prostate cancer through research his colleagues have described as "world class". But now, having tackled his career "Everest" several times over, Professor Denham will retire this week.
"We have been very fortunate in various research projects," he said. "I suppose I ended up thinking about it as climbing Everest, because these things do take a lot of energy. The earliest, and biggest, Everest was helping to establish the Trans-Tasman Radiation Oncology Group - the TROG group."
The Australia and New Zealand trial group aimed to address the role of radiotherapy alone, or in combination with other modalities, and Professor Denham was its inaugural president. Professor Denham led two large cancer trials that proved anti-testerone hormone therapy - coupled with radiotherapy - "killed off" prostate cancer cells in "droves". The results and the recommendations from the second, longitudinal study, known as the RADAR trial, were likely to be adopted in clinical settings globally.
The treatment regimen, which Professor Denham trialled over 10 years in men with advanced localised prostate cancer, reduced the spread of the cancer by 40 per cent, and the number of deaths by 30 per cent.
"That was a hell of a lot of work," he said. "The first one we had 800 fellows on the trial. We never thought we'd be able to do a trial that big. We did a second trial to try to improve the benefits of the first trial by adding another year of hormones, and that turned out to be brilliant."
Professor Denham's lifetime of work has resulted in 350 publications, and almost $24 million in research funding. He was a founding member of the Hunter Prostate Cancer Alliance, and was "integral" to the success of its Little Prick campaign - which encouraged men over the age of 50 to have a simple blood test. The campaign contributed to a 36 per cent drop in mortality for prostate cancer. The Conjoint Professor at the University of Newcastle said he was proud of the Calvary Mater staff, and the research and collaborations that had brought medical teams from different specialties together. While retirement beckons, Professor Denham intends to keep his hand in the game.
"Apart from various pastimes in retirement, I will be working with Professor Hubert Hondermarck - cancer biologist at Newcastle University - to stop prostate cancer spreading into the bone marrow," he said.
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