A history of cancer care

St John of God Subiaco Hospital started caring for cancer patients in 1898. There have been significant developments in treatment options, technology and patient care since then.

14 Apr 2023

Ivy Suite cancer ward in the Subiaco Clinic, 2001

Ivy Suite in the Subiaco Clinic, 2001

For the first decades of the hospital, options for cancer care were very limited. Surgery and follow-up radiation therapy were the only treatments for solid cancers until the introduction of anti-cancer drugs (chemotherapy) in the 1950s.

The first move towards specialist cancer care at Subiaco came in 1965, with the opening of a dedicated Radiology Clinic in McCourt Street. The clinic featured cobalt telepathy units, which used gamma rays to kill tumour tissue.

A specialist radiology and nuclear medicine clinic opened in the St John of God Medical Centre in 1978. By this time, progress was being made in imaging tests such as ultrasound and CT and MRI scans. Patients had to be taken across the road from the main hospital to the diagnostic unit in the Medical Centre.

A new diagnostic unit was installed alongside the theatres in North Block in 1981. 

By the 1980s, there was increasing recognition that dedicated cancer wards were needed in response to new treatments and ways of delivering care. Subiaco’s first oncology ward opened in 1989. While this brought cancer patients together, services were still dispersed across the hospital campus. 

Established in 2001 in Subiaco Clinic, the hospital’s first Cancer Centre was a significant step towards providing cancer therapies in one location.

The opening of the Bendat Family Comprehensive Cancer Centre in 2007 finally brought together the many elements of cancer care in a holistic way. As the first private clinic of its kind in Australia, oncology, haematology, complementary therapies and palliative care were now co-located in a dedicated facility.

The hospital continues to embrace new technologies to treat cancers, including robotic surgery, fibre optic technology and liquid nitrogen and laser therapy.

All of our oncologists at Subiaco are involved in research. As well as studies pioneered at the hospital, our oncologists lead investigations on national and international studies into new drugs. The success of a number of these studies has seen new treatments fast tracked for use Australia-wide, often giving patients the best possible cancer treatment outcomes.

Supported by this ongoing research, our dedicated oncology team has contributed to Western Australia having the best survival rates for pancreatic, stomach, ovarian and colon cancers in the world.

More information about our cancer services.