Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI)

Jim Denham

Researcher Profile

Professor Jim Denham

Professor Jim Denham has a distinguished track record in clinical cancer research having successfully coordinated many trials in the pursuit of improved treatments for people with cancers such as oesophageal, head and neck, breast and prostate.

Jim’s current research in prostate cancer illustrates the real contribution he is making to cancer treatment world-wide. Jim is coordinating one of the world’s largest prostate cancer trials which has shown that a hormone therapy given to men with localised but inoperable prostate cancer a few months before radiotherapy can help stop their cancer returning after treatment and reduce cancer deaths.

His long standing interest in clinical research traces back to his medical and research training in the UK. Having completed a project examining the natural history and progression of Follicular Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas, his research soon progressed into the areas of translational research, treatment delivery, and therapeutic trials.

In 1987 Jim was appointed Director of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Newcastle Mater Hospital. Soon after, the Department took pride in becoming an inaugural member of the Trans Tasman Radiation Oncology Group (TROG), a multi-centre group committed to pursuing advances in radiation therapy through the conduct of clinical trials. In 1996 Jim established the Mater as the central coordination office for TROG which has grown to include over 100 members from 35 centres in New Zealand and Australia.

In The Lancet Oncology published March 2011, Professor Denham reported that the use of six months of AD had reduced prostate cancer death rates 10 years after treatment from 22 per cent to 11.4 per cent in the RADAR trial’s predecessor (TROG 96.01).

As part of the RADAR trial, Professor Denham is testing a drug called Zometa that is commonly used for preventing osteoporosis but he stopped the medication after it flared up his gout.

“Zometa reverses the loss in bone density that Lucrin and similar drugs can cause, but this isn’t the whole reason for it being in the RADAR trial design,” Professor Denham says.

“Our major hope is that it will prevent the appearance of metastases (secondary cancerous spread) into the bones.”

In another important milestone, toxicity and quality-of-life effects were studied in a cohort of 1000 men across 23 cancer centres in Australia and New Zealand, with very promising results published in The Lancet Oncology in November 2012.

“We obviously want better treatment outcomes but not at the price of severe side effects. I am highly encouraged by the quality-of-life findings, which are considerably better than anticipated.”

Professor Denham said that androgen deprivation had been previously shown to destroy millions of cancer cells which otherwise would thrive on testosterone. The downside, however, was that men experienced temporary symptoms similar to menopause.

“In around one quarter of men side effects from androgen deprivation can be quite severe, with hot sweats, a reduction in libido and erectile dysfunction,” he said.

“Other repercussions caused by a year or more of hormone therapy include swelling of breasts, depression, loss of cognitive function, weakening of muscles, anaemia and bone fractures due to loss of mineral density.

“The side effects can be quite devastating for a man but we found that the additional 12 months of hormone therapy had little long-term impact compared to the standard treatment. The majority of men returned to normal once the therapy ceased.”

As a Senior Staff Specialist in Radiation Oncology at the Newcastle Mater Hospital and a Conjoint Professor to the University of Newcastle, Jim has added an important dimension to the profile of the Hunter region by making the University of Newcastle and the Mater Hospital important players in clinical research.

Read more about Jim on the University of Newcastle website here

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