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As well as the talks about clinical trials and fundamental lab research, there’s an important strand of the NCRI Conference focused on the needs of cancer patients and survivors. Two of our Cancer Information Nurses, Martin Ledwick and Becky Partridge, went along to these sessions, and we asked them for their perspective on the talks they heard.

Becky’s view

I found a lot of the conference very interesting indeed. From the nursing point of view, what’s really struck us are the survivorship issues, as more and more people are surviving cancer nowadays.

With survivorship, a lot of work has been done on the long-term effects that really hadn’t been done before. A lot of this is about physical effects, such as the long-term effects of radiotherapy. But there’s also the emotional effects – the problems people have in getting back to their normal lives.

There was a very good talk by Julie Rowland yesterday, who made the point that people have their treatment, and when it comes to an end they’re suddenly asked to take back all the responsibilities that they had before and to get on with their lives. But that’s a very difficult thing at a time when they probably want to stop and reflect on what’s happened to them, that their life has completely changed.

Those late psychological effects are going to affect their relationships with their family and their healthcare provider. It can also be challenging if they want to go back to their job. We heard a lot about how difficult it is for managers, colleagues, occupational health departments and the patients themselves – how do they move on, what sort of issues need to be taken into consideration.

It’s a huge area that needs a lot more work, and the discussions around that have been fascinating

Martin’s view

It’s really great to see an evidence base now to flesh out the themes that have been discussed before about survivorship, and it’s great to see those issues being taken seriously.

Leading on from that, one of the sessions I found particularly interesting was around depression and cancer, and also – and this is quite a challenging theme – people expressing a desire to take their own life when they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. This was work by Jane Walker at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

A positive point that came out of this was that it’s only a relatively small proportion of people affected by cancer that end up with clinical depression and express suicidal thoughts. Most people actually adapt very well, and it would be quite interesting if we looked at that – what sort of coping strategies lead people to take hold of the experience of cancer and do something positive about it.

However, a lot of the studies were also looking at the impact of depression, how we should assess it, and how we should support people properly. Again, it’s great to see and emphasis being put on proper psychological assessments that people will need, so we can identify which patients need what level and what type of support. I was pleased to see emphasis put on those kinds of psychosocial issues for cancer patients.

The plenary session yesterday by Rebecca Fitzgerald, looking at Barrett’s oesophagus, was really interesting. I just loved the fact that they were researching a technique that was looking at the illness from everyone’s perspective.

They were trying to find a good, simple, easy and acceptable way of screening for Barrett’s oesophagus, but linking it together and asking questions about the implications of that. It was nice to see a very grounded piece of medical research that was looking for practical solutions to real problems.

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