Women's Health Initiative - Cancer survivorship support for women
For survivors of cancer, the pathway for managing and overcoming the often challenging symptoms and side effects arising from their treatment can be unclear. The Women’s Health Initiative is a ground-breaking new initiative by the Irish Cancer Society, which aims to address a long-standing gap in the identification and management of symptoms and side effects for women which have resulted from their cancer and treatments.
This wide range of symptoms can include anything from fatigue, urinary problems, lymphoedema, and severe psychological distress to other difficulties such as sexual problems, infertility and premature menopause.
The Women’s Health Initiative aims to improve health and wellbeing for women cancer survivors at all stages of their cancer journey through the establishment of pilot clinics to be based in Cork and Dublin. The clinics will involve initial groups of selected participants, and it is hoped that the two-year pilot scheme will eventually lead to the roll-out of a national programme for cancer survivors.
Funding support of €400,000 from the Irish Cancer Society has been the catalyst for a total investment of €890,000 over two years by a consortium also involving the HSE, The Mater Private Hospital, the National Cancer Control Programme, Breakthrough Cancer Research and Pfizer Ireland.
As part of the initiative, the ‘Women’s Cancer Survivorship: Supporting and Innovating for Change’ programme led by Medical Oncologist UCC Professor Roisin Connolly at Cork University Hospital and the ‘Life After Cancer Clinic’ (LACC) led by UCD Professor of Gynae-Oncology Donal Brennan at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital will provide the first dedicated clinics for female cancer survivors nationwide.
Both programmes will coordinate the delivery of a range of general and specialist health supports for female cancer survivors while also using latest technology to make the services more widely accessible for the initial chosen participants regardless of their location.
Developed in collaboration with researchers from the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Centre at Johns Hopkins in the US, and supported by Prof Josephine Hegarty from the UCC School of Nursing and Midwifery, the ‘Women’s Cancer Survivorship’ programme will work with women at Cork University Hospital and regional hospitals who have completed their primary cancer therapy.
Using symptom management pathways developed as part of the programme, those using the new Survivorship Clinic will receive a Survivorship Plan and education on the management of important symptoms, and will be needs-assessed for referrals to appropriate specialists.
Based in the Mater Misericordia University Hospital, St Vincent’s University Hospital and The National Maternity Hospital this nurse-led pilot will initially focus on women who are living with and beyond breast and gynaecological cancer. It has been developed in consultation with Professor Martha Hickey of the University of Melbourne, and with strong Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) participation.
The work of the pilot clinic includes:
- A ‘Menopause After Cancer’ study aiming to use a digital intervention for sleep disturbance and improved communication about illness between patients and their partners or significant other
- A diagnosis delivery project aimed at supporting staff and women in the delivery of diagnoses in a more organised, clear and compassionate manner
- A nurse-led survivorship clinic using a stepped-care model supported by resources within the hospitals along with community-based supports, initially focussing on cervical cancer for the first phase of the project.
The ThisIsGo.ie platform offers a one-stop-shop for helpful resources and advice on cervical cancer as part of the first phase of its development, including over 130 different articles, videos and audio content covering every stage of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and life with and after cancer.
The platform has been co-developed by the Irish Cancer Society through its Women’s Health Initiative and support researchers and clinicians in UCD, in close collaboration with women and families directly affected by cervical cancer, and supported by Pfizer.
In 2022, a team of researchers at the University of Galway and Galway University Hospital, led by Consultant Surgeon Prof Aoife Lowery brought the LYSA trial to the west of Ireland, where it will be trialed by selected participants who have undergone cancer treatment at the hospital.
Along with providing active support for women’s post-treatment symptoms, the Galway arm of the Women’s Health Initiative will have a novel added element whereby participants’ heart health will be monitored and tested for side-effects associated with their treatment. It is expected that this will improve the understanding of any possible link between treatment, particularly chemotherapy for breast cancer, and heart conditions, including who may be vulnerable or at risk, so that this can be addressed more effectively before and during treatment.
Aiming to improve survivors’ quality of life
Over the course of the two-year pilot phase the Women’s Health Initiative will be monitored for effectiveness and potential improvements based on patient experiences and outcomes.
By focussing on this vital yet undervalued aspect of patient treatment pathways the Women’s Health Initiative aims to ultimately decrease the frequency and burden of symptoms, helping to empower women to manage their side effects and bringing about improvements in health-related quality of life as a result of evidence-based treatments.
Furthermore, it will provide specialised training and development for a range of medical and support staff based at various programme pilot sites across Cork and Dublin, who will benefit from knowledge-sharing with leading global experts in the area of cancer survivorship.
The Women’s Health Initiative is supported by the National Cancer Control Programme as part of the National Cancer Strategy 2017-2026.
Prof Donal Brennan
Professor Donal Brennan is a Clinician Scientist whose main research interests are in biomarker development, tumour inflammation and obesity-related carcinogenesis. He has received several awards for his research including the title of European Young Researcher of the Year in 2010. He has authored over 90 peer-reviewed publications and has been named on six international patent applications.
He was appointed as UCD Professor of Gynaecological Oncology and Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecological Oncologist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, the National Maternity Hospital and St Vincent's University Hospital in May 2016 and practices at the Mater Private Hospital. He is the academic lead of the Ireland East Gynecological Oncology Group.
Prof Roisin Connolly
Professor Roisin Connolly was appointed as the Professor Gerald O’Sullivan Chair in Cancer Research at University College Cork and Cork University Hospital in September 2019. Roisin joined the university from the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center (SKCCC) at Johns Hopkins, US, where she was an Associate Professor of Oncology and Co-Director of the Developmental Therapeutics Program.
Prof Connolly has expertise in the development of biomarkers of response to anti-cancer therapies, and the design and conduct of clinical trials that test investigational new drugs in the treatment of patients with both early- and late-stage cancers. She has led numerous multicentre clinical trials, and recently received the prestigious ECOG-ACRIN Young Investigator Award 2019 for excellence in clinical investigation.
If you need support with your side-effects and symptoms you can talk to our cancer nurses in confidence by calling our dedicated Cancer Support Line on Freephone 1800 200 700.
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