Cancer diagnosis and rehabilitation

Cancer affects one in three of us. Our faculty’s multidisciplinary cancer expertise uniquely positions us to make a real difference to individuals diagnosed and/or being treated for this disease. Our research is transforming knowledge and impacting upon clinical practice in areas such as early diagnosis, treatment of the disease and its side-effects, and the development of novel pharmaceuticals that can diagnose and treat cancer at the same time.

Our research is far reaching, going further than metropolitan communities into rural and Indigenous Australia and around the world.

The novelty, multidisciplinary nature and impact of our research has led to a multitude of prizes and awards, honorary fellowships and sustainable funding from government and charities within Australia and beyond.

Our international leaders in cancer research are improving diagnosis by using novel imaging techniques and new technologies. In rehabilitation, we are challenging long-held beliefs about problems arising from cancer treatment, developing better interventions, and treating the consequences of medical intervention.


Meet our researchers

Patrick Brennan

Professor Patrick Brennan
Research leader, Professor of Diagnostic Imaging


I first became interested in research as a young imaging science graduate in the 1980s. It was clear that procedures for producing the best possible image at the lowest risk to the patient were not optimised, meaning accurate diagnoses could not always be guaranteed. This awareness led me to my PhD studies in Belfast in the early 1990s and to my current focus on breast cancer as Professor of Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Sydney.

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My work has transformed the world of breast imaging and accuracy of diagnosis of breast cancers. I use a variety of methods, such as online interactions with radiologists around the world, artificial intelligence and eye-tracking to improve the accuracy of breast cancer identification. This is critical to prognosis.

I am co-leading an international multicenter study, where for the first time since X-rays were discovered, a radical improvement in image quality has been discovered. A world-first clinical trial will take place in 2020 using this new approach.



Sharon Kilbreath

Professor Sharon Kilbreath

My research direction was a direct consequence of experiencing first-hand the side effects of treatment for breast cancer. At the time I was diagnosed, there was little research about the physical impairments arising from surgery and other treatments, including chemotherapy. My friend and research collaborator, Professor Kathryn Refshauge did not bring the traditional flowers or chocolates to my bedside, but the only two studies she could find on prevention of lymphoedema, a well-known side effect of treatment for breast cancer. The need to address this knowledge gap was clear.

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Before the end of my chemotherapy, my research team had expanded to include my oncologist and surgeon. This team continues to grow as we challenge assumptions about the causes of upper limb impairments following breast cancer treatment and examine interventions to prevent these impairments.



Meet our research students

Robyn Sierla

Robyn Sierla

Working as a lymphoedema therapist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, I was very aware that as clinicians, despite our advanced understanding of the physiology of this chronic oedema, we were still feeling our way through the dark in treating the condition. I needed a way of recording change and demonstrating treatment response for myself and for my patients. I also felt strongly that, as a profession, we needed to standardise our reporting to build a stronger evidence base.


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My doctoral studies will establish consensus on a set of outcomes to report change in lymphoedema and develop and test software to digitise and standardise this process, under the guidance of Professor Sharon Kilbreath and her team. I have also received excellent supervision and support from other researchers across the University of Sydney - from Implementation Science to the School of Information Technology, all of whom provided a wealth of knowledge and support.