Close to my Herts: Mark Harrison

PUBLISHED: 09:39 26 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:54 20 February 2013

Mark Harrison

Mark Harrison

Consultant oncologist and Berkhamsted resident Mark Harrison, who works at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, tells Louise McEvoy about advances in cancer research and the highs and lows of his job...

How long have you worked at Mount Vernon?

Ive worked as a consultant oncologist for 11 years. My job is based at Mount Vernon but I have run outreach clinics in Hemel Hempstead, St Albans, Watford and Hillingdon.

My training comprised medical school at the Royal Free, postgraduate training in general medicine in Cambridge and oncology training at the Hammersmith, St Marys, Middlesex and Great Ormond Street hospitals. I also took time out to study for a PhD with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund at their laboratories in Ridge near Potters Bar.

What does your job entail?

Im responsible for the non-surgical management of people with gastrointestinal cancer. Gastrointestinal cancer is any tumour that affects the alimentary tract from oesophageal to rectal cancer, as well as the liver and pancreas. This involves close working with surgeons and gastroenterologists and then the supervision of administration of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

What do you most/least enjoy about your job?

My job is never boring there are highs and lows, as one would expect with looking after patients with cancer, as well as intellectual and emotional challenges.

The vast mounds of paperwork are easily the least enjoyable part of my job, but the vast amount of irrelevant emails run a very close second.

Tell us a bit about Mount Vernon and its services.

Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is the regional cancer centre for Hertfordshire and South Bedfordshire, as well as a large amount of North and West London. We provide an oncological service to all the local district general hospitals by running outreach clinics within those hospitals. On-site at Mount Vernon we see around 5000 new patients a year for treatment with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

What kind of research is ongoing at the centre?

We have an extensive range of clinical trials for all major disease sites these range from early stage investigations of novel drugs to large confirmatory studies of the value of established drugs.

The use of novel imaging techniques (CT / MRI / PET) to assess tumour extent and response is a major research interest, as is the development of new radiotherapeutic techniques.

Are there any major plans in the pipeline?

We have just completed a transition in which our research and development department has joined with the research and development department at The Royal Marsden Hospital. This should help fast-track innovative research projects through both centres and, with the increased number of suitable patients, allow in-house studies.

Another recently completed development is the provision of a state-of-the-art chemotherapy and clinical research suite on the Mount Vernon site.

Future plans include redevelopment of the wards and outpatient infrastructure.

How can readers support Mount Vernon?

Mount Vernon has a national and international reputation for its research work, which helps to save and prolong many lives. It costs around 500,000 a year to sustain the research team and we are always looking for individuals, companies and trusts willing to make donations. Potential donors should contact Brian Abbott at

What do you do to relax?

I have three small children so the term relax and unwind is foreign to me! I try to keep fit by circuit training and playing five-a-side football. Other interests are my motorbike and wine cellar.

What do you most like about Berkhamsted?

We moved to Berkhamsted from Muswell Hill six years ago. Its great being surrounded by hills, woods and fields, and actually quicker to get into central London than it was in north London.

From April until September the children spend most of their time outside, since our garden is now quite a bit bigger than the previous postage stamp!

The schooling has been excellent and weve made lots of new friends.

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