Project Spotlight: Lisa Formby, Prostate Cancer Researcher

In our ‘Project Spotlight’ blog series, we chat to some of our fantastic researchers and hear all about their work and life as a cancer researcher. This week, we’re speaking to Lisa Formby, who is working on a project in the North Wales Centre for Primary Care Research, at Bangor University. This piece of research, funded by Cancer Research Wales with the generous support of the West Wales Prostate Cancer Support Group, seeks to understand more about the journeys that men take to their diagnosis of prostate cancer. They hope to capture the whole pathway, from first noticing symptoms through to primary care, referral and commencement of treatment. Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in Wales, with around 2,500 men being diagnosed each year. Symptoms of prostate cancer may develop over time and some patients experience symptoms up to one year prior to diagnosis, while others are without symptoms. By describing, in detail, the factors and influences that contribute to men’s diagnostic journeys, Lisa and the rest of the research team hope to be able to identify potential interventions to prevent unnecessary delays in diagnosis. 


What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on a study exploring the diagnostic pathways of men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer in Wales, from first symptom or no symptoms to diagnosis. This will involve a patient’s journey from primary care (GP) through to secondary care (hospital specialist). The intention of this study is to further understand this important journey and determine potential interventions that in future could help prevent unnecessary delays, allowing for earlier diagnosis and swifter treatment.

The study is using a mixed methods approach, which includes collecting data through questionnaires from patients, GPs and hospital specialists, as well as interviews with patients. This kind of approach provides the research team with a more inclusive set of findings, and a deeper understanding of the questions that we are trying to address.


It all sounds really interesting, but why is this piece of research so important?

Prostate cancer is currently the leading cancer in men within the UK and the second most common cancer in the UK. Around 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer within their lifetime and in Wales there are around 2,500 cases being diagnosed every year. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Prostate Cancer Guidelines (2019) emphasise that earlier stage diagnosis greatly improves rates of survival. The Wales Cancer Delivery Plan (2016-2020) has also highlighted the importance of early diagnosis, as studies have shown that Wales is currently at the lower end of survival rates compared with other countries. The reasons behind delays along the diagnostic pathway are varied and complex and this study will provide a greater insight into the multiple factors involved. These can include a lack of awareness of symptoms, patient waiting times, appointment frequency and examinations performed to determine diagnosis.


What common misconceptions do you think people have about research, or researchers?
I think a lot of people assume that research is undertaken in a traditional laboratory setting, and this is not always the case. I spend my working days in an office, surrounded by a fantastic team who are all working on other cancer related, muscoskeletal or palliative care research projects. A lot of my time is spent liaising with the 10 hospitals that are supporting my study, inputting data, completing important paperwork and keeping up to date on new and emerging information relating to prostate cancer, and cancer practices in general.


How did you become a cancer researcher?
After spending many years in roles working with young people, offenders, families and the community, I made the decision to become a student again. My work had given me a desire to understand more about people’s health and wellbeing so I enrolled on a BSc Health, Wellbeing and Community degree. I found out I had a passion for learning and thoroughly enjoyed my time in university, leaving with a 1st class honours and a new found love for research. I was lucky enough to secure the first research project support post I applied for at Bangor University in their North Wales Centre for Primary Care Research, and on a topic that is close to my heart.


What is your favourite thing about your job?
I love my job and feel completely invested in it. My step dad and father-in-law have both had prostate cancer and several members of my immediate family have had cancer, so I understand how important research into cancer is. I think my favourite part is meeting the people who are involved and hearing their stories, whether they are patients, families, hospital staff, Cancer Research Wales supporters or other researchers. I feel very strongly about connecting research to the patients and people it is aiming to help. I am honoured to be working on a study that has the potential to make a positive difference to the lives of cancer patients and their families.


It sounds like you are really passionate about this research, but what do you do when you aren’t in work?
I am a big believer in having a good work/life balance. The health and wellbeing of myself and my family is very important to me. I love spending time with my family and being outdoors. I practice mindfulness and meditation as I find it helps with my mental wellbeing and enjoy walking and yoga. Last year we converted an ambulance into a campervan so we spend as much time as possible travelling. A great thing about living in a beautiful country like Wales is we never have to drive far to connect to nature as we are surrounded by stunning scenery and diverse wildlife.


Is there anything you would like to say to Cancer Research Wales supporters?
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that supports Cancer Research Wales. Without their backing, vital research into cancer would not be able to take place. I am extremely grateful of the support given for our prostate cancer study and appreciate the time and effort that has gone into raising that money, from both Cancer Research Wales and the West Wales Prostate Cancer Support Group. I have met staff, volunteers and people who support this fantastic charity and heard a lot about the fundraising that goes on. Cancer is a disease that affects so many people in so many different ways and support from Cancer Research Wales supporters helps the charity in their dedication to making vital progress into prevention, early diagnosis, better treatment and the pursuit of a cure for cancer.