27 October 2016
News Category: 
Patient and health stories

For many people who have survived cancer, it can have a lasting impact on their life. For some, returning to ‘normal life’ post-treatment can be a difficult transition to make.

There is often ongoing or late side effects and follow up care, but there are also the physical and emotional changes that can affect people after diagnosis and treatment.

Professor Bruce Mann, Director of the Breast Tumour Stream at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) said there has always been focus on the diagnosis and treatment phases of cancer, but evidence tells us that it’s also important to support people in their life beyond cancer.

“Research has shown that the end of intensive hospital-based treatment is a difficult time for many patients, as they may feel ‘abandoned’ by the hospital. It’s important to recognise this, and also use the opportunity to help people move beyond the cancer and its treatment.”

The Breast Cancer Survivorship Program aims to improve follow-up care for women who have completed active breast cancer treatment. It was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of the Victorian Cancer Survivorship Program, and was established in 2013 as a collaboration between the Breast Service of The Royal Melbourne Hospital, The Royal Women’s Hospital, Western Health, BreaCan and Inner North West Melbourne Medicare Local.

Professor Mann says that the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program provides a holistic model care for patients following breast cancer.

“This type of care actively involves women and their GPs and recognises the specific issues and opportunities that exist at the end of active treatment to support women to live well,” Professor Mann said.

A central part of the program is an extended appointment with a specialist Breast Care Nurse, 6 to 12 months after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This includes a discussion around any unmet needs and the types of support available to the patients.

Breast Care Nurse Kerry Shanahan said: “After the consultation, the Breast Care Nurse develops a Survivorship Care Plan that includes information about the patients’ diagnosis and treatment, a health and well-being assessment and a plan for ongoing care which usually involves shared follow-up care between the Breast Service and the General Practitioner.”

Professor Mann said the model of care has been very well received by both patients and their GPs, and has resulted in better coordinated and more personal health care planning and management for the patient.

“Our aim is for women to feel more educated and empowered about their ongoing health care.

“As a result of the program there are on average fewer return visits to outpatients, as GPs as very capable of safely delivering much of the required care. This has increased our capacity to see new referrals in a timely manner.”

“As a Breast Care Nurse I believe that the care we provide to these women has been enhanced through the Survivorship Program, which makes doing what we do very satisfying,” Kerry said.

In August 2016, the Breast Service of The Royal Melbourne and The Royal Women’s hospitals joined with the Breast Service of Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to form the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre Breast Tumour Stream.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer remains one of the most common cancers among Australian women. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and eight women die from breast cancer every day in Australia (1).

The five year survival rate for breast cancer in Australia is 90%, and more than 176,000 people were estimated to be living with breast cancer at the end of 2010 (diagnosed with breast cancer in the previous 29 years) (2).

(1) National Breast Cancer Foundation

(2) Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, via Cancer Australia website 2016