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Joining forces globally to address oral complications for people with cancer

Improving clinicians' understanding of oral complications in cancer care through international collaboration.

Improving clinicians' understanding of oral complications in cancer care through international collaboration


Barry Quinn (second left) with colleagues at the Kyushu Cancer Centre

I recently returned from a trip to Japan as part of a joint European and Japanese project working alongside nurses, doctors and dentists to address oral complications in cancer care.

I was struck by the warm welcome I received from my Japanese colleagues, their commitment to this aspect of clinical care and their willingness to share their expertise and experience. The Japanese teams spoke of the continuing challenge – similar to many European settings − to have an evidenced based and consistent approach to assessing, preventing and treating oral complications in cancer care. Like in the UK, many Japanese people affected by cancer have reported the distress caused by oral complications as a result of their disease and the treatments they had undergone.

Preventions and early detection

With the growing body of research, coupled with the supportive treatments available, many of these oral care complications can sometimes be prevented, reduced and certainly detected earlier to address the severity of the complications seen.

In my role as chair of the European Oral Care in Cancer Group (EOCC) I travelled to the cities of Tokyo and Fukuoka and took part in a training collaborative project between EOCC and the Japanese Association of Supportive Care in Cancer (JASCC). The EOCC was set up in 2015 by a multi-professional group of oral care experts and has since developed clinical guidance on the correct approach to oral care and treatment.

The project

Based on EOCC guidance, I worked with doctors, nurses and dentists from Japan to deliver sessions on addressing oral complications and oral care to more than 900 Japanese nurses, dentists, surgeons and doctors working in cancer settings. The interactive sessions were a great opportunity to meet colleagues, share practice, ask questions and learn from one another. We used clinical case studies, webinars, lectures, expert panel discussions and I attended a great workshop on oral assessment and care led by two Japanese oral surgeons.

This collaborative project gave me an opportunity to discuss the challenges we similarly face in the cancer field, including how we respond to the increasing age of our populations and the rise in the number of people affected by the disease. I was particularly impressed by the number of nurses, dentists, oncologists and surgeons I met who clearly focused on putting patients at the core of what they do; a reflection not only of JASCC as an organisation but the healthcare system and the culture of care and respect in Japan for people as individuals.  

'Although the concept of palliative care is only just beginning to grow across Japan, it is clear that its principles and an emphasis on responding to each person’s individual needs already exists in the care delivered'

During my time in Japan, I was also able to see this care in action during a visit to meet with nursing and medical colleagues at the 400-bed Kyushu Cancer Centre in the city of Fukuoka. Patients travel far and wide to receive treatment and support here.

The centre’s philosophy – created by patients and staff – places the person and the family at the heart of their care and I witnessed this through visiting wards, clinics, the radiography, chemotherapy, and pharmacy departments. Although the concept of palliative care is only just beginning to grow across Japan, it is clear that its principles and an emphasis on responding to each person’s individual needs already exists in the care delivered by the nurses and doctors I met.

As a result of my visit, staff at the Kyushu Cancer Centre and my colleagues at Barts Cancer Centre have agreed to do a joint piece of work on education and training to improve understanding and management of oral complications. The next step will be to continue to build on this joint project and to encourage an exchange visit between nurses from both centres so that we can continue to learn from one another and make great strides to further advance this important aspect of clinical care.

Acknowledgements  

My thanks to Professor Kazuo Tamura, the board of JASCC and my colleagues in EOCC for enabling this project to be delivered.


About the author

Barry Quinn is Macmillan director of nursing for cancer and palliative care and senior lecturer at Barts Health NHS Trust

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