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Professor Heather Ann Payne, consultant clinical oncologist at The Prostate Centre and The Harley Street Clinic – speaks to us about the advances in prostate cancer treatment in recent years, why people should visit The Prostate Centre for their care and how she provided a very different level of care altogether during her trips to Haiti.

When did you join the HCA Healthcare UK family?

I’m coming up to my 20th anniversary of working with HCA Healthcare UK. I started working at The Harley Street Clinic back in 2001 and then moved over to working in The Prostate Centre in 2005, a year after it opened. Fast-forward 15 years and I still love working at The Prostate Centre, alongside my NHS work at University College Hospital – where I’ve been a consultant for 24 years. 

When did you first realise that you wanted to work in the medical profession?

It sounds very cliché but when I was five years old, my mum bought me a white plastic doctor’s bag, and at that moment I told her that was what I wanted to be when I grew up. Growing up in East London, being a doctor wasn’t the typical path for women, but, with my fantastically supportive family behind me, I became just that. 

Starting off as a medical student I worked in many settings – one of them was providing medical care in Haiti, which at the time was one of the poorest countries in the world. That was definitely an eye-opening experience. Once back in the UK I worked in many hospitals as a junior doctor. Despite always wanting to be a doctor - I never had it set in my head which area of medicine I wanted to work in. Initially I wanted to be a psychiatrist, but after stumbling upon a role in oncology it brought everything together for me. The patients and their conditions were so varied that it enabled me to learn so much. 

A few years later, an opportunity arose when I was a registrar. A urological oncology consultant had left their post and I was asked if I would take the role, initially as a locum. From here, urological cancers, and more specifically prostate cancer, has never stopped being my focus. This is primarily because with conditions such as prostate cancer, there are so many technological advances in terms of how we can treat it. There are new ways of delivering radiotherapy and surgery and also there are now lots of new drugs which can treat prostate cancer whilst maintaining quality of life. It is a job which constantly keeps your brain active and interested.   

It's an honour and a privilege that patients choose to continue to see me throughout their life. For some of the men, I have been in their life providing them with care for over 20 years on and off. It’s wonderful to be able to share this little part of their lives and really get to know them. 

What are the biggest changes in the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer?

One of the biggest changes is awareness – more men are coming forward earlier to us and reaching a diagnosis sooner. This means that many more men are seeing us before it has spread to other areas, often making it much easier to treat.

There have also been huge advancements in the types of treatment we can offer. At The Prostate Centre, we offer radiotherapy which can now be much more targeted to exactly where the tumour resides. The technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years with the advent of Intensity modulated radiotherapy and arcing treatment. This has allowed more effective doses of radiotherapy to be delivered without additional side effects as the treatment is very focused to the tumour targets. Another new treatment we offer is pre-rectal spacers – where a gel is placed between the prostate and the rectum to ensure that when radiotherapy is administered, it is directed to the prostate and the dose to the rectum is significantly reduced

Due to COVID-19, has the care you provided at The Prostate Centre differed in the last six months?

Whilst we were required to pause some patients’ radiotherapy and chemotherapy, those whose care was the most time-critical were able to still go ahead, which was a real blessing for those patients. Anything that could be done remotely during this time was. All of our multidisciplinary team (MDT) meetings have also gone virtual during this time. During these meetings, any patient who has had a cancer diagnosis that week is discussed. A lot of my consultations went virtual, which has had mixed reviews from patients. Some like the fact that they can talk from the comfort of their own home, whereas others miss that physical interaction.

Now, I’m pleased to say that we’ve resumed patients’ treatments. It’s critical that we ensure patients, and those people who might have symptoms, know that we’re available to see and treat them. In The Prostate Centre there’s a sign which reads: ‘There are many treatments for prostate cancer – ignoring it isn’t one of them’. Men must present to their doctor if they have any concerns, otherwise the impact from COVID-19 could end up being more catastrophic than the virus itself.

Why choose The Prostate Centre?

Aside from the exceptional medical care from everyone at The Prostate Centre, it’s a space which isn’t scary or intimidating, but one where patients can feel reassured and looked after. From the person at the reception desk always having the biggest smile, to the patient liaison team who help patients by booking them in for their scans and taking them to where they need to give blood, the team do everything they can to make it as seamless as possible for patients. At this one site we have so many different specialists based here, so whatever care or treatment the patient requires, we’re able to help them. Everyone at this clinic is dedicated to diagnosing, managing and treating prostate problems and urological cancers and also to looking after every man according to his individual needs.
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