Women's Health Initiative

Women hiking in the country

For survivors of cancer, the pathway for managing and overcoming the often challenging symptoms arising from their initial treatment can be unclear. A ground-breaking new initiative by the Irish Cancer Society aims to address a long-standing gap in the identification and management of symptoms for women which have resulted from their courses of treatment.

This wide range of symptoms can include anything from fatigue, incontinence, lymphoedema, and severe psychological distress to other difficulties such as significant intimacy problems, infertility and rapid premature menopause.

The Women’s Health Initiative aims to improve health and wellbeing for women cancer survivors at all stages of their journey through the establishment of pilot clinics to be based in Cork and Dublin. The programme will begin recruiting participants in early 2020 ahead of the clinics opening.

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 women regardless of their location.

Dublin pilot

Based at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, the ‘Life After Cancer Clinic’ (LACC) is a nurse-led pilot that will initially focus on breast and gynaecological cancer survivors. Developed in consultation with Prof Martha Hickey of the University of Melbourne, it will see over 250 women issued with a survivorship passport which includes a written treatment plan for their cancer as well as guidance on physical activity and information on diet and stopping smoking.

Women will be able to remotely complete an online assessment through the LACC app developed as part of the programme, which will assess their needs and refer them to information and local services as needed. The service will be accessible through a number of straightforward routes, with a second clinic also opening at St Vincent’s University Hospital supported by the National Maternity Hospital within the two-year pilot.

Cork pilot

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.

Improving 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.

Support

Women who require support for their cancer diagnosis and resultant symptoms are advised to contact the Irish Cancer Society Nurseline on Freephone 1800 200 700, via email at cancernurseline@irishcancer.ie or their oncologist or GP, or visit one of our 13 Daffodil Centres to speak to a cancer nurse.

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.

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