Professor Christobel Saunders

Professor Christobel Saunders

Winthrop Professor Christobel MB BS, FRCS (Gen), FRCS, FRACS is internationally recognised as one of Australia’s most prominent research-orientated cancer surgeons. She has substantially contributed to many clinical aspects of breast cancer research including clinical trials of new treatments, psychosocial, translational and health services research and is active in several areas of surgical oncology cancer research, with a particular emphasis on breast cancer. Her career started as a surgical trainee in the UK and then Consultant Surgeon and Senior Lecturer at University College Hospitals in London, before moving to Australia in 2000 as a surgeon at Royal Perth Hospital and since 2002 as Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Western Australia.

She is responsible for conducting numerous clinical cancer projects and involved in multiple local, national and international clinical trials. She has performed research for >20 years evaluating the efficacy and utility of therapy for early breast cancer. Her research encompasses clinical trials, endocrine and exocrine aspects of breast cancer (including a population based study of endocrine therapy use and a large case control study of environmental risk factors for breast cancer), familial cancers, survivorship issues, minimally invasive diagnosis and therapy, and translational cancer research. Her interest in translational research has led her to set up, with Professor Wendy Erber at UWA, a translational cancer pathology laboratory and collaborate with Professor Robyn Anderson from the PeterMac who is setting up a national “warm autopsy” study of breast cancer metastases. She has strong interests in health services research and is Director of a Cancer Services Research Unit at UWA.

During the past 5 years she has been a Chief Investigator on 37 competitive grants with co-collaborators totalling over $17 million, published over 65 peer-reviewed journal articles 2 letters to the editor of peer reviewed journals, 2 book chapters, 4 invited publications, 1 report and 1 book. Based on her research there have been a number of advances in the management of breast cancer in Australia including the use of breast MRI to screen high risk women leading directly from her establishment of a national group establishing MRI as a screening tool for high risk women and the successful introduction of a Medicare Item number for this (of which she is currently submitting an extended application to the Department of Health and Ageing). Professor Saunders has another Medicare application underway to the Medical Scientific Advisory Committee (MSAC) for the emerging technology Intra-Operative Radiotherapy.

Professor Saunders is closely involved in strategic planning and management of cancer services and research in Australia as Council/Board member of Cancer Australia and previously the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, past Deputy Chair of the National Breast Cancer Foundation research advisory committee, author of WA Health Cancer Services Framework, first Acting Director of WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, and voluntary work in cancer policy in the developing world. Advocacy work includes Board membership of Breast Cancer Network Australia and Cancer Council Australia and President of Cancer Council WA (2009-2013). Her work on the National Lead Clinicians Group has allowed her to put the cancer agenda on an even wider platform.

Professor Saunders contribution to the wider discipline include as a member of a number of external review panels including NHMRC; Cancer Council Australia; Cure Cancer Australia Foundation; National Breast Cancer Foundation; Netherlands Organisation for Health Research and Development, New Zealand Health Research Fund and an Australian Research Council assessor, reviewer or sub-editor for international and national journals. Her community engagement is demonstrated through her long standing work as Board member and President of the Cancer Council WA and Board member of the Breast Cancer Network Australia. She is a frequent lecturer on cancer to community groups and allied health professionals and her commitment to communicating with patients and the community is further demonstrated through ongoing dissemination of information in lay language such as: Breast Cancer: The Facts, published by Oxford University Press (2010), written to assist health professionals, and provide valuable information for patients, their families and friends, guiding readers informatively along the breast cancer journey. This book was ‘highly commended’ in the Popular Medicine category of the 2010 British Medical Association (BMA) Medical Book Competition. Lastly her commitment to teaching and mentoring of students and young researchers and surgeons is demonstrated through numerous avenues such as helping establish the UWA Student surgical Society, a mentoring programme for young women surgeons, as executive member of the RACS Women in Surgery Section, establishing the UWA Masters in Surgery programme, and mentoring countless young researchers and surgeons both formally through higher degrees and informally in research projects and in a pastoral care role.

Key Achievements and Awards

  • Leading a successful, national application for the introduction of a Medicare item number for MRI as a screening tool for women at high risk for breast cancer – lead applicant to the Department of Health and Ageing
  • 2nd Annual Kuwait Breast Diseases & Oncoplastic Reconstructive Surgery Conference Certificate of Appreciation (2010)
  • NBCF Patron’s Award for achievement in breast cancer research (2010)
  • Certificate of Outstanding Service Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (2011)