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Dr. Lawson Eng is currently a 5th year Medical Oncology resident at the Unviversity of Toronto. He completed his undergraduate studies, medical studies and both his internal medicine and medical oncology residencies at the University of Toronto. He has been conducting cancer research since his undergraduate studies and over the last 8 years has been working with Dr. Geoffrey Liu at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre focusing on research related to biomarkers, outcomes and more recently cancer survivorship with a focus on tobacco cessation.
Dr. Lawson Eng, how did you first become interested in medical oncology?
"Aside from a personal family experience that made me interested in pursuing oncology, I was always someone who was interested in the sciences. While I was enrolled in my undergraduate studies in pathobiology, I became interested in learning about biological pathways, cell signalling and looking at therapeutic targets and this lead me to become interested in oncology from a basic/translational sciences perspective and I started to take part in cancer research during my undergraduate studies. Through some of the research work that I was exposed to, I saw the breadth of research opportunities in oncology and how cancer research can translate into how we deliver care to cancer patients."
Why do you enjoy oncology?
"From a clinical perspective, I enjoy oncology because of the special relationship that oncologists develop with their patients as they meet patients usually at a vulnerable time in their life (i.e, when they are diagnosed with cancer) and they help to guide and support patients throughout their cancer journey. As well, oncology is very holistic, where you have to have a broad knowledge base in medicine and also not only consider the medical needs of the patient but also the psychosocial needs and their quality of life as well."
Are you doing any research currently? If so, could you tell us a little more about it?
"Yes, I am. The two research projects that I am currently working on are "Lifestyle Behaviours in Cancer Survivors", and "Inpatient registry for admission for patients on immunotherapy".
a) Lifestyle Behaviours in Cancer Survivors
"This is a project that I have been working on since medical school where we look at factors that influence behaviour change in cancer survivors. It originally started off as a project looking at factors affecting smoking cessation in cancer survivors but over the years has evolved to looking at other lifestyle behaviours such as physical activity or alcohol. However, it has had its focused shifted over the years towards not only looking at factors affecting behaviour change but also health disparities, patient perceptions and preferences for the delivery of health behaviour programs."
b) Inpatient registry for admission for patients on immunotherapy
"Currently immunotherapy is becoming a popular treatment option for some cancer patients with metastatic disease given that its high effectiveness and its reduced negative impact on quality of life compared to conventional cytotoxic chemotherapy. Although it is better tolerated, there are some rare side-effects called immune-related adverse events that can occur. For example, the drugs may activate the immune system not only against cancer cells but also against the human body - where it starts to attack the body leading to an autoimmune reaction. Sometimes these reactions are quite serious requiring hospital admission. In this study, we are trying to learn how patients on immunotherapy who are admitted with these serious side effects are investigated and managed in hospital and what their outcomes are."
Are there any future projects? What do you plan on doing/ achieving in the future?
"In terms of future directions and future projects, for the health behaviour study, we are now focusing on looking at patient preferences towards the delivery and implementation of such programs into cancer care. Given the rise of marijuana and vaping/electornic cigarettes, we will be looking towards evaluating these behaviours in more detail in the upcoming months/year.
As well, one other major project I will be working on, is developing an in-patient data registry collecting information on all cancer patients who are admitted to hospital on an oncology ward across the major hospitals in Toronto. The idea for this comes from the current GEMINI project that has been developed for the General Internal Medicine division where they collect data regarding hospital admissions, investigations completed, lab/test results, medications, discharge diagnoses and demographics. We are working with the GEMINI team with the hope of a similar database (GEMINI-Oncology) for oncology patients such that we can evaluate how cancer patients are cared for in hospital and ask questions related to the inpatient experience of cancer patients."