New perspective

A SABBATICAL in Italy has given Dr Rob Blum some fresh perspective.​ 

Reporter Hannah Knight talks to Dr Rob Blum about his recent overseas adventure.

Dr Blum, Bendigo Health's oncology department director, recently traveled overseas to hone his skills.

"I elected to go to a breast unit in Italy near Florence, it was a place called Prato and it's about 15 or 20 minutes by train from Florence," Dr Blum said.

"I worked with a Dr Angelo di Leo. He was the director of the oncology unit there.

"We've had a number of Australian doctors who have gone to work over there as well."

Dr Blum's primary purpose was to research breast cancer.

"I did research in breast cancer which is HER2-positive, it's a particular type of breast cancer, and also genetic breast cancers," he said.

Away from home Dr Blum had no other distractions - no house to maintain, no garden, no contacts, no responsibilities.

Dr Blum had no clinical load and was solely involved in research - something he described as a great opportunity.

"The purpose of the two things I looked at was really looking at what current treatments we have and what things are on the horizon that can be used now and might be used in the future," he said.

"There are a number of treatments available - if I had to summarise it what I would say is the way breast cancer is being treated is changing in that it's becoming very much based on the biology of the cancer.

"Sometimes the way that cancer looks under the microscope is not necessarily reflective of its biology.

"So something can look nasty under the microscope and it may not be as nasty as you think and something that might look less aggressive may in fact have a nastier biology.

"So we're starting to look at the genetics of the cancer and that may in fact guide clinicians as to what treatment might be appropriate.

"It's about tailoring the treatment to the biology of the cancer - that's really the way things are going.

"In the past they might do some assessments of the breast cancer under the microscope and people got very similar types of treatments."

Dr Blum said identifying the biology could help address the problem.

"It's a way of changing the way that you look at things," he said.

Dr Blum said his time overseas had been very beneficial.

"With many of these things, you go there for a particular purpose but it also gives you an opportunity to think about how you work and live your life as well," he said.

"It gave me an opportunity to refocus the way that I do things professionally and personally and that's been invaluable."

Dr Blum is a busy man with the oncology unit seeing about 600 patients a year.

But Dr Blum is about to get busier, thanks to a new venture.

"I'm actually starting some private practice as well as working at Bendigo Health, which I hadn't done before," he said.

"I guess it's just a new challenge to consider.

"I just thought it would be something else to try and do.

"There really isn't any private oncology here at the moment - that will be at Bendigo Day Surgery and I'll just see where things go."

Leanne Galtieri started her breast cancer journey in 2004 and is one of Dr Blum's patients.

"I had a vested interested in Dr Blum going overseas," she said.

"It's very relevant.

"My cancer actually spread 12 months after I was diagnosed, so I've had lots of treatments and I've also seen the changes.

"Now for me talking to people, it's amazing how you think you have got the same cancer but you can be on different treatments.

"It's pretty amazing."

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