Featured Researcher – Dr. Janice Kwon


Where do you work and live (e.g., what is your day job): 

I work at Vancouver General Hospital and BC Cancer.  As a gynaecologic oncologist, I provide a spectrum of care to women with gynaecologic cancers and preinvasive disease.  I am also the Director of the Gynaecologic Oncology subspecialty training program, or fellowship program at UBC.


What is your primary research focus?

My primary research focus has evolved over the years.  Right now my focus is on maximizing identification of genetic mutations that cause hereditary cancer syndromes.  There are certain gene mutations that can be passed down through generations, like BRCA gene mutations, which are associated with very high lifetime risks of breast and ovarian cancer.  We know that ovarian cancer is the most lethal of all gynaecologic cancers, because there is no effective screening test, and most women are diagnosed at an advanced stage.  Identifying BRCA gene mutations in ovarian cancer patients is really important, because even though they have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they can now be treated with a drug called a PARP inhibitor that can prolong their survival by 3 years.  This survival benefit is unprecedented in the history of ovarian cancer treatment, as the majority of women do not survive more than 5 years.  Genetic testing for BRCA mutations is also important for the family members, because if they are found to carry the same gene mutation, they can undergo life-saving cancer prevention strategies to avoid the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, as well as breast cancer.


What drew you to that subject?

As a gynaecologic oncologist, I have treated hundreds of women with advanced ovarian cancer.  I know all too well that their prognosis is generally very poor.  In the absence of an effective screening test, the strategy is obvious…we need to prevent as many of these cancers as possible.


What are the biggest challenges in pursuing research while being a clinician?

The biggest challenge is all of the competing demands for my time.  In addition to fellowship director, I am the Associate Head of Research for the Department, and the Gynaecology Surgical Tumour Group chair for BC Cancer.  I am the Vice Chair of the Research and Outcomes Evaluation Committee for the BC Surgical Oncology Network, and I serve on the Priority and Evaluations Committee for BC Cancer, which makes recommendations to the Executive on new therapeutics and whether they should be funded. I am the Chair of the National BRCA Collaborative, which has the mandate to improve genetic testing for BRCA mutations across the country.


What are the greatest supports for your research?

I would have to say protected time is the greatest support for my research.  My husband Dr. Mark Carey is also a surgeon-scientist in our Division/Department, and we essentially share a 1.0 FTE clinical practice.  This enables us to protect each other’s time to spend on our research.


What are your future plans and goals?  What would you like your research to achieve?

This year I was awarded a Health Professional Investigator award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, which will provide me with the time and funding to work on my current research focus of evaluating the costs and benefits of tumour testing to identify BRCA mutations in ovarian cancer, as a companion diagnostic for PARP inhibitor treatment, as well as a means of streamlining the whole genetic referral and testing process, which will improve the efficiency and reduce costs to our health care system.  This is going to require a coordinated multidisciplinary effort and knowledge translation strategy, which can be enabled through my role as the Chair of the National BRCA Collaborative.  The ultimate goal is to identify as many individuals with BRCA mutations as early as possible.  For cancer patients, this information will influence treatment.  For family members who have inherited the same genetic mutation, there is a real opportunity for ovarian cancer prevention.


As new Associate Head research, what is your vision for the department’s research program?

The vision is to bring together the different divisions/disciplines, as there are so many opportunities for colleagues to collaborate on projects that have the potential to benefit so many women in our population.  There are topics that transcend multiple disciplines, for example, fertility sparing treatment for endometrial cancer patients, which may involve REI, general gynaecology, and oncology.  The goal is to help facilitate these partnerships, and provide guidance to researchers in early practice.


How do you juggle your different roles?

It’s tough!  Having protected time set aside every other week is critical to accomplishing all of these roles.  I couldn’t do it as a full-time clinician, at least not at the expense of evenings and weekends.


What did your childhood “self” aspire to be, if you hadn’t become a researcher?

I think I would have pursued music as a career.  I was a classically trained pianist.  I earned my Associateship from the Royal Conservatory of Music when I was 15.  I performed as soloist with various orchestras, including the Calgary Philharmonic and Regina Symphony Orchestra.


When you aren’t busy with work, what do you do for fun?

I have 2 daughters, ages 10 and 6.  Who needs entertainment when you have kids?!  They crack me up all the time.  I coach both of their soccer teams, which puts me on the soccer field 4 days a week.  They both take piano lessons, so I help them practice, or rather, “strongly encourage” them to practice.   I used to do Olympic distance triathlons when I was in my 20’s and 30’s but there is no time for that anymore, plus the training is really hard on the “older” body.  Now if I get out for a 30-40 minute run a couple times a week, and I don’t injure myself, that is a victory for me.  I love to run through Pacific Spirit Park, and swim at Kits pool.


Dr. Janice S. Kwon (MD, MPH, FRCSC) was appointed as Associate Head of Research at the UBC Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology in 2019.  She is an Associate Professor and Director of the Gynaecologic Oncology subspecialty (fellowship) training program at UBC.  Her research interests include population-based research in gynaecologic malignancies, and cost-effectiveness modeling of testing criteria and prevention strategies for hereditary cancer syndromes.  She holds a Health Professional Investigator Award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.