Blood Cancer Awareness Month: An opportunity to learn more about haematology

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Did you know September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month? To learn more about the rapidly developing discipline of haematology, we recently sat down with Dr Nick McVilly, Haematology Registrar at the Gold Coast University Hospital.

Haematology involves the management of diseases that affect the blood and bone marrow such as anaemia, leukaemia, lymphoma, and clotting or bleeding disorders, as well as transfusion services. According to the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA), the variety of activities undertaken by haematologists at a laboratory and clinical level are a major drawcard for practising in this discipline, and Nick agrees.

“I started my haematology training this year after working as a junior doctor in Tasmania. I like it because of the mix of patients we see and the different types of problems they can have.”

“I also enjoy getting to know our patients really well and supporting them through what can be a really difficult period of their life,” he said.

Nick also likes the vast opportunities for research in haematology and cancer.

“Blood cancer treatments are constantly expanding, and some have dramatically improved from even 5-10 years ago, so something that used to have a poor prognosis is now much more manageable. We can improve their outlook.”

“At any given time on the Gold Coast there is a clinical trial underway, which is another interesting part of working in cancer. We have very robust research backgrounds and are always trying to look at the way we do things, and asking; is this the best way to do things?”

The need to focus on the patient is something Nick learnt early-on in his career.

“I was taught to always remember to treat the person in front of you. We can get caught up with a scan, biopsy, or numbers, but it’s important to relate all of that to the person.”

“Sometimes the best treatment is supporting them and their families so they don’t have intolerable symptoms, rather than radical treatments. We need to know their priorities and fit the treatment in with what’s important to them,” Nick said.

And when it comes to difficult decisions Nick says the Gold Coast has a supportive department. “We have supportive staff that help us along the way, our colleagues in infectious diseases or palliative care, allied health and nursing, there a whole support network that supports us to do our job and to support our patients.”

Having moved from Tasmania to the Gold Coast to further his career and enjoy a bit of warmer weather, Nick is now excited for what’s ahead.

“Personally, I’m excited for the future and increasing my knowledge and capabilities in this field to hopefully provide top quality care to patients going forward, and training juniors and other staff as I become more senior.”

“Of course, we all hope for new treatments that will quickly and easily cure cancer but in the short-term I’d love to see more successful treatments with fewer side effects that are easier to deliver for patients so they spend less time in hospital.”

And if you’re wondering how you can make a difference to patients with blood cancer and other blood disorders, Nick’s advice is simple.

“Donate blood and join the blood marrow registry. That’s the one thing I always encourage people to do as it has a direct impact on patients. It will also help us research new treatments and find out more about the way cancer works and how to diagnose it.”

Visit the Life Blood website to find your nearest blood donation centre.

Dr Nick McVilly, Haematology Registrar at the Gold Coast University Hospital

Symptoms of blood cancer

Clinicians concerned about a patient exhibiting any of the symptoms below should refer for specialist review following normal referral procedures.

  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • lumps or swellings
  • fatigue or shortness of breath due to low level of red blood cells
  • unexplained drenching night sweats
  • repeat or severe infections due to low levels of white blood cells which fight infection
  • regular and frequent fevers
  • unexplained rash or itchy skin
  • pain in your bones, joints, or abdomen
  • unusually pale complexion.

Clinical resources

Last updated: 14 September 2022