A portrait of PG Roy, the clinician


Renowned clinician PG Roy discusses breast cancer, and the plans for a charity fashion show in the Examination Schools, Oxford.

Published: 10 June 2024

Author: Richard Lofthouse


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Professor P.G. Roy meets me in her office at Manor Hospital in Headington. She is highly respected locally as a clinician and is especially cherished by a large community of former breast cancer patients, encompassing both the academic and local communities – breast cancer has a staggering incidence of one in eight women, a statistic that is not easy to overlook.

Professor Roy serves as the senior Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon at Oxford University Hospitals, an Associate Professor of Surgery at the University, and the Surgical Tutor at Pembroke College. Additionally, she is the interim Chair of the Oxford Breast Buddy Group (OBBG), a remarkable charity founded by three individuals in 2015 and officially registered in 2016.

Former cancer patients often experience what is commonly known among them but not widely understood: an "almost universal collapse" after treatment. When you inform your family and friends that you have cancer, everyone springs into action. The patient braces for the treatments, irrespective of intensity of side effects. Thanks to modern medicine and typically early-stage diagnosis, eight out of ten patients survive and continue to live long, cancer-free lives. However, once the "all-clear" signal is given and patients are sent home to resume "normal life," they frequently face internal chaos, a sense of vacuum, degree of psychological breakdown. Life, having been recently turned upside down, becomes difficult to piece back together. This upheaval can lead to a profound reappraisal of identity, sometimes unearthing issues from earlier in life. While some individuals can return to their lives more easily, they are in the minority.

"I realized that there was this gap, and OBBG was created to fill it," says Professor Roy. The charity provides intermittent contact with former patients, discussions or talks about survivorship, exercise, nutrition, menopause, sleep, and other topics that matter to them; guidance on meditation and mindfulness for psychological wellbeing; and, most importantly, "a forum that is also a safe haven." Here, individuals can share their experiences with others who understand what they are going through.

Increasingly, the charity also supports patients on the very day of their surgery by providing a goodie bag that includes a small cushion for under-arm placement post-surgery – a gesture that is greatly appreciated. This thoughtful touch signifies that "someone else is aware of your situation beyond your immediate loved ones – you’re not alone."

Professor Roy is recognized for establishing a high-quality oncoplastic unit for breast cancer treatment, actively engaging in clinical trials and research. She works across Churchill Hospital, Manor Hospital, and Genesis Care in Oxford. She is a strong advocate for personalized, holistic treatment, which means tailoring treatments to minimize side effects and paying close attention to the overall welfare of the patient, including their psychological wellbeing. She believes this approach significantly impacts clinical outcomes and long-term survival rates.

"There has been a massive improvement in immunotherapy drugs and personalized care, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, in the past ten years," she notes.

However, Professor Roy highlights that the shadow cast by COVID-19 shows no signs of diminishing – funding is under pressure, while "psychological needs have increased globally." She also points out that cancer no longer only affects the elderly, with rising rates among younger adults, including students. On the day of our conversation, Cancer Research UK reported a steep increase in cancer rates among younger adults, noting a 24% rise in cancer rates among 25 to 49-year-olds between 1995 and 2019. This increase is partly due to better diagnosis and specific forms of cancer, such as bowel cancer, which are thought to be mostly diet and lifestyle-related.

Behind these statistics lie complex, multifactorial causes, a point Professor Roy emphasizes. Cancer Research UK has a special program called Breast Cancer Risk Assessment in Younger Women (BCAN-RAY), highlighting the troubling rise in cancer rates among younger women.

To address these issues, OBBG is hosting its inaugural fashion show with dinner, entertainment, and an auction at the University Exam Schools on October 4, at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and just ahead of the new academic year. One of the organizers, the dynamic Domestic Bursar of Univ, Angela Unsworth, says the event aims to celebrate survivorship. With the majority of breast cancer patients emerging from the ordeal with an all-clear, the broader message is not just that life goes on, but that life is good. As Professor Roy puts it, "let’s just keep going…"

The Fashion Show at the Exam Schools will be held on Friday October 4, with more detail to follow via the OBBG Website, http://oxfordbreastbuddygroup.co.uk/