July 02, 2021
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Women in Oncology Peer Perspective Board addresses sexual misconduct in health care

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Considering the number of women and men who report sexual harassment within the field of health care, we felt the need to address this flaw that we see throughout the system, including in oncology.

Two things sparked this discussion. The first was an investigative report published by The Cancer Letter into unethical sexual relationships that Axel Grothey, MD, had with women he mentored.

The second was a study presented during this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting on sexual misconduct in the field of oncology, written by several members of the Women in Oncology Peer Perspective Board and colleagues.

Results of the cross-sectional survey showed 70% of oncologists who participated reported sexual harassment by peers or superiors, including gender harassment, unwanted sexual attention and sexual coercion. Notably, the proportion of reported sexual harassment incidents was much higher for women than men (80% vs. 56%).

The report on Grothey is only one high-profile case compared with these numbers. This is a testament to the structural problems that exist within our health care system.

The challenge is that these men, and in some cases women, will “fail up” and pass from institution to institution. Meanwhile, the careers of victims and those impacted by this behavior often are derailed altogether.

One telling thing from the investigative report is how many women came forward — and how many times they came forward — while Grothey moved among institutions and continued to hold leadership positions.

We need a top-down approach to change the system to one that is not only equitable and fair, but also punishes people who behave and act in a manner that is not appropriate for anyone in society.

It’s also important to focus on the fact that we need both men and women at the table discussing the issue and coming up with actionable solutions. We cannot accept the silence that surrounds these incidents. We need people to step up in leadership as allies instead of remaining bystanders or enablers.

From Healio's Women in Oncology Peer Perspective Board

References:

  • Subbiah IM, et al. Abstract 11001. Presented at: ASCO Annual Meeting (virtual meeting); June 4-8, 2021.
  • The Cancer Letter. Prominent GI oncologist Axel Grothey was forced out of Mayo Clinic for unethical sexual relationships with women he mentored. Published May 28, 2021. Available at: https://cancerletter.com/the-cancer-letter/20210528_1. Accessed June 17, 2021.