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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Helping older people with cancer

Published: 20 December 2012

Health Sciences senior lecturer Dr Jackie Bridges has been working with Macmillan Cancer Support, in partnership with the Department of Health and Age UK, on a project to address under-treatment of older people with cancer.

Five pilot sites across the UK were set up to assess the way they work and care for older people with cancer.

Jackie was chief investigator for the North East London Cancer Network pilot.

The findings of the project are published today (20th December).

With Jackie's help the North East London Cancer Network piloted a new way of working with older cancer patients.  Specially trained clinical nurse specialists conducted a frailty assessment on people aged 70+ years with a new diagnosis of breast or colorectal cancer. This included gathering information on living situation, including caring responsibilities; and screening for problems related to comorbidities, activity levels, independence in daily living, cognition, nutrition and mood.

The aim of the assessment was to inform treatment decision-making, referrals to local specialists e.g. care of the elderly to other services, and the provision of practical support.  Study patients who needed it were offered taxi rides to their hospital appointments and a range of Age UK services including daily befriending phone calls and help with shopping, housework and bathing.

Evaluation results show that, given the right staffing levels and support, cancer clinical nurse specialists can take on this extended role and support older cancer patients in taking up the recommended treatment, but that good working links with care of the elderly, support of the multidisciplinary team and getting the timing of the assessment right are vital factors in optimising older people's outcomes.

Jackie comments: "This pilot has showed the potential for nurses to take a central role in supporting older people to take up the recommended treatment, and has highlighted some of the important areas that still need work."

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