Dr. Dianne Miller: medical visionary, leader, health care innovator.

“There’s very few people who can say I had this idea, and it’s changed the world, and Dr. Dianne Miller is one of them,” says Dr. David Huntsman, Oncologic Pathologist and Co-founder of the Ovarian Cancer Research Program (OVCARE) at Vancouver General Hospital.

BC native, Gynecologic Oncologist at VGH and Co-founder of OVCARE, Dr. Miller is revolutionizing the care and prevention of ovarian cancer for women in BC and all over the world.

Ovarian cancer is both silent and deadly. With virtually no symptoms and no screening process, seven in 10 women with ovarian cancer die within five years of diagnosis. The long-term survival rate for advanced ovarian cancer is only 10 per cent.

With such a low survival rate for women with ovarian cancer, Dr. Miller decided to take action.

“It’s not good enough to just keep doing the same thing over and over again, and never really making any progress,” says Dr. Miller. “I knew we could do better, so I called a meeting with two of my colleagues.”

Dr. Miller sat down with Dr. David Huntsman and Dr. Blake Gilks in the VGH cafeteria. And on the back of a paper napkin, the idea of OVCARE was born.

“My two major personality traits are optimism and stubbornness,” says Dr. Miller. “The OVCARE team’s goal is to decrease cancer mortality from all gynecological cancers by 50 per cent in 20 years. And with the continued hard work of our team and philanthropic support, we know that this is realistic.”

Since the start of OVCARE, the care and prevention of ovarian cancer has taken momentous leaps forward. The results speak for themselves — thousands of lives are potentially saved every year because of the vital work being done here in BC.

“I don’t treat patients, I treat people.”

In 2008, Dr. Miller and her team discovered that ovarian cancer is not a singular disease, but rather five separate diseases with their own prevention and therapy needs. Immediately, this shifted the fundamental understanding of ovarian cancer resulting in progressive research and development of more targeted treatments.

Dr. Miller capitalized on the revolutionary discovery that the most common and deadliest form of ovarian cancer doesn’t stem from the ovary itself, but the fallopian tubes. Knowing this, OVCARE launched the world’s first ovarian cancer prevention program at VGH. This changed the Canadian standard of practice for gynecologic procedures such as hysterectomies and tubal ligations to include, in appropriate cases, the safe removal of the fallopian tubes. This prevents this type of ovarian cancer from ever occurring.

Additionally as a result of OVCARE research, all women in Canada diagnosed with ovarian cancer undergo testing for BRCA1/2 mutations that are associated with other types of cancer, including breast cancer. Identifying this gene enables risk-reducing interventions for patients and family members, saving further lives.

“If there’s one thing better than curing cancer, it’s never getting it in the first place,” says Dr. Miller.

Innovation is vital

On May 9, 2019 at the second Innovators’ Challenge, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation proudly presented the 2019 Mr. And Mrs. P.A. Woodward’s Foundation Lifetime Achievement in Health Innovation Award to Dr. Dianne Miller. This award recognizes the transformative impact she is making in revolutionizing the care and prevention of ovarian cancer for women in BC, Canada and worldwide.

“Dr. Dianne Miller’s most impactful legacy will likely be one where thousands of women in BC and worldwide will never know they were ever at risk of getting ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Janice Kwon, Gynaecologic Oncologist at VGH. “There is truly no one more deserving of this award.”

Innovation is vital to health care. From improving diagnosis to providing better treatment options for all British Columbians, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation connects the power of philanthropy with the power of health care innovation. Together with philanthropic support, VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation is accelerating the testing and implementation of leading health care innovations, transforming health care and saving lives.

Dr. Miller’s work has thrived with the support of donor funding, but there’s still a long way to go. Support life-saving cancer research today.