Breast care nurses help guide cancer patients in the right direction throughout their continuum.
About 113 out of every 100,000 Australian females will be diagnosed with breast cancer each year, a figure set to remain constant until at least 2020.
However, with the expected rise in population, prevalence is projected to jump from an estimated 14,290 cases in 2011 to a predicted 17,210 nine years later.
Breast care nurses (BCNs) have played a large role in the effective treatment and care of women and men diagnosed with the disease since the inception of the role nearly 20 years ago.
PhD candidate Tracey Ahern at the Australian Catholic University is conducting new research consisting of three studies, which will be used to gain a national perspective on both patients and BCNs.
She will compare BCNs working in metropolitan areas with those in rural or remote settings, and hopes results of the surveys will provide up-to-date information about the role to help inform policy and further research. The study opened in late August and will conclude in October this year.
“In 2008, I was a Cancer Council Queensland Nurse of the Year entrant and during this time I had the opportunity to hear professor Jeff Dunn [CEO of Cancer Council Queensland] speak about initiatives of Cancer Council Queensland.
“One statement that he made resonated with me and I have never forgotten it. He said the statistics show that the further [people] live from a metropolitan area, the more likely they are to die from cancer.
“Having always lived in rural Australia and having worked as a registered nurse in a rural area, 2000km from the nearest metropolitan city, I was appalled by this statistic.”
The current BCN workforce is estimated at about 350 strong. The McGrath Foundation now provides funding for 85 of those throughout Australia. Through this unique care model, BCNs are funded for a minimum of three years and act as patient advocates that coordinate the care for women with cancer.
Traditionally, McGrath BCNs have been placed in the areas of greatest need, which up until now has been predominantly on the eastern seaboard of Australia. However, having secured an extra $18.5 million in funding earlier this year, the not-for-profit foundation is now looking to extend its footprint in South Australia and Western Australia.
The organisation is seeking funds to raise its total to about 150 nurses.
McGrath programme director Helen Paynter confirms the foundation will also look at extending its work with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which had one nurse working out of its Broken Hill Branch.
Paynter says a recent study – the Breast Cancers Nurses Initiative – funded by the Commonwealth of Australia and conducted by HealthConsult, evaluated the organisation’s nurse program. Results showed that those who had access to a BCN felt well supported throughout their cancer treatment.
This was compared with patients from areas with no BCN available, who said they had a great deal of difficulty accessing information and support.
“Our breast care nurses are highly connected within the community – so they know the services to refer patients on to,” Paynter says. “They know if there is a lymphomas therapist nearby, a counselor or psychologist whom patients may need to see, or even who the local prosthetics provider is – and they can refer clients on with ease.”
The nurses were found to be critical in the provision of emotional support, particularly in regional and rural settings, as some areas simply did not have access to required services.
“The nurse was able to fulfil the gap to a certain extent,” Paynter says.
Tracey Ahern is calling for expressions of interest from breast care nurses willing to participate in her survey. Email her at [email protected] for further details.Do you have an idea for a story?
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