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Katharine Aitken

Katharine Aitken

Completion date: 2012

Katharine graduated with her MSc in Oncology and currently works as a Clinical Research Fellow at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, while carrying out the MD(Res) programme at The Institute of Cancer Research. Her research centres on the use of stereotactic body radiotherapy for treating patients with limited sites of metastatic disease; in particular, to cancer that has spread to traditionally hard-to-treat areas of the body such as the liver, spine and adrenal glands. This type of radiotherapy combines detailed imaging, computerised three-dimensional treatment planning and precise treatment set-up to focus radiation beams and dose with extreme accuracy.

Katharine was inspired to pursue a period of full time research after completing her MSc in Oncology in 2012. Her MSc provided the opportunity to gain a number of useful research skills: “The final part of the MSc, Part C, contains formal teaching sessions on using packages such as SPSS (for statistical analysis of data) and Excel, as well as dissertation writing and oral presentation skills. These are all great transferable skills. Undertaking a dissertation project also provides an opportunity to produce a piece of work that may be presentable at conferences or publishable.”

The access to high quality teaching and lecturers at the ICR inspired Katharine: “The second year course consists of overview lectures on different tumour sites delivered by specialists who are frequently world-class leaders in their field. This was a wonderful opportunity to be taught the key research findings and up-to-date best practice in each area, which is often difficult to achieve via textbooks given the fast-paced developments in oncology.”

The most enjoyable part of her MSc was her dissertation. This was a retrospective study investigating the use of PET-CT (positron emission tomography - computerised tomography) scans for detecting disease recurrence in patients with colorectal cancer and a rise in CEA, a marker that indicates possible relapse. The timing of when to perform a PET-CT scan in patients with a small CEA marker rise but normal conventional imaging was a debated issue in her clinical work that lent itself nicely to investigate for her MSc dissertation.

Study was relatively easy to fit in around Katharine’s clinical work as she was well supported by her supervisors and was able to take study leave to help with the data collection. She also found the ICR was set up with great facilities to aid research, including library resources, such as online access to journals and useful software packages.

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