Nurses can play key role in supportive care for cancer patients – let’s give them the means to do so

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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The role of the cancer care team in supportive care is crucial for people with cancer. Why?

Cancer is accompanied by many difficult aspects and side effects, depression, uncertainty, and much more. Some of those side effects include nausea and vomiting, which remain an important adverse effect of treatment of cancer, and particularly occur in younger people.

Going further, cancer-associated thrombosis is also an often-overlooked cause of death in cancer patients that can be readily prevented and treated. From the management of physical symptoms to the dissemination of information about the treatments’ possible side effects, supportive care is vital. Supportive care for people with cancer is also pivotal for rehabilitation, secondary cancer prevention, survivorship and end-of-life care.[1]

In this context, empowering cancer nurses plays a central role. Due to the severe lifestyle impacts of many cancer treatments, cancer nurses are providing the central first-hand information and psychological support to people with cancer.

Cancer nurses interact with people affected by cancer and inform them about supportive care, and the prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting as well as cancer-associated thrombosis.

However, with treatment options for cancer patients becoming increasingly complex, an increasing amount of information is required. General training is often not sufficient for nurses’ empowerment and confidence. When specialist cancer nurses are part of a multi-disciplinary team, patient-reported outcomes tend to improve.

In February, I had the opportunity to chair a roundtable discussion, organised with the European Cancer Patient Coalition and the European Oncology Nursing Society. Our discussions resulted in concrete suggestions on improving the quality of life for people with cancer, which are listed in the meeting report here. Together, we call for action:

  1. Policy-makers, patient groups and nursing groups should collaborate to develop specific training exchange programmes in oncology for nurses during their education.
  2. Patient and nursing groups, through the support of members of the European Parliament and members of national Parliaments, should continue to inform their communities about the importance of supportive care.
  3. Patient and nursing societies should raise further awareness on cancer-associated thrombosis as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and collaborate with policy-makers to ensure further investment into primary and secondary prevention of these and other conditions.
  4. Stakeholders should advocate for the recognition of nurses’ specialisations both at European and national levels, and for further communication skills training for oncology nurses.
  5. The European Commission should consider cancer-associated thrombosis as well as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting as key indicators in good cancer care and health system performance reviews.

By improving supportive care for people with cancer, we can improve the quality of life, reduce the risk of complications and loss of life, and contribute to rehabilitation. As a member of the European Parliament, I am determined to support the efforts of the European Cancer Patient Coalition and the European Oncology Nursing Society in the field of cancer treatment and nurses’ education.

I hope many more colleagues, including European and national policymakers, can join me in these efforts.

About MEP Lieve Wierinck

Lieve Wierinck is a Flemish politician for the liberal Open VLD party. Mrs Wierinck holds a pharmaceutical degree from the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel). In addition, she obtained a post-graduate degree of pharmaceutical management in 2006 at the University of Hasselt. In line with her academic background, she owned and managed a pharmacy for nearly 30 years.

Before joining the European Parliament, Lieve was the leader of the party fraction in Zaventem, followed by her twelve-year presidency of the OCMW (Public Centre for Social Welfare), where she managed a staff of 150 people. She combined this with her obligations as a full-time member of the City Council of Zaventem. From December 2011 until June 2014, she was a member of the Belgian Federal Parliament, where she was a member of the Committee for Public Health, Environment and Social Renewal, and of the Advisory Committee on Societal Emancipation.

In May 2016, Lieve replaced Mr Philippe De Backer as a member of the European Parliament, where she is a full member of the Industry, Technology, Research and Energy Committee (ITRE) and a substitute member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON). Lieve also works on topics surrounding healthcare, as she strives for a progressive and affordable healthcare in Europe.


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