In 1991, a handful of medical oncologists started a conversation about how to deliver improved results for their patients with gastro-intestinal (GI) cancer. The discussion focussed on their concerns around existing treatments. Connecting with each other at medical conferences, or via fax and phone, they came to the conclusion that the only way to discover meaningful solutions for their patients was to collaborate as a group.
Two questions occupied the minds of this small group of clinicians: the role of adjuvant treatment for colon cancer, and the timing of palliative care chemotherapy for people with advanced colon cancer. At the time only one drug – 5 Fluorouracil – was available for most GI cancers and it left many unanswered questions.
Joining forces under the name “Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group” (AGITG), and under the auspices of the NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre at University of Sydney, clinicians in Australia and New Zealand experienced firsthand the value of participating in the worldwide effort to improve outcomes for patients with GI cancer. The experience served to strengthen their appreciation of the vital role clinical trials could play in developing solutions where existing treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, were ineffective. At a time when new drugs were in various stages of development, participating in trials enabled patients to access a greater number of them in a safe environment.
A combination of factors propelled the growth of the AGITG:
- Subspecialisation of clinicians, including surgeons, radiation oncologists and medical oncologists;
- Increasing access to new medications; and
- Recognition that clinical trials provided answers for patients.
At the same time, we were part of the overall growth in Australia, as clinical trials became recognised for their important role in delivering improved healthcare overall.
Since 1991 we have evolved into a larger, sophisticated group with more than 1,000 members.
A broader purpose to our mission has evolved over time: to share the latest knowledge with our membership as well as educate the next generation of GI cancer clinicians. Both of these objectives have been met through the development of the AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM). The ASM provides a world-class forum for the exchange of ideas with international speakers and educational Preceptorships (that is, Harvard short course model for senior trainees and junior consultants).
We also acknowledge the advances made in improving treatments for people with GI cancer that have come about through the enormous effort of many people. Treatments have progressed only by the effective coming together of multidisciplinary medical professionals, nurses, allied health professionals, patients and their families from Australia and New Zealand, who have voluntarily given their time to address key unanswered questions and achieve better health outcomes for patients with gastro-intestinal cancer.
Dr Lorraine Chantrill
B.SC.(HONS) MBBS(HONS) FRACP PHD