Analysis

Specialist role provides thyroid cancer support

About 2,700 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year in the UK, many of whom experience isolation due to a lack of support and information. To address this imbalance, Macmillan Cancer Support recently introduced the role of thyroid cancer information nurse specialist.

About 2,700 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year in the UK, many of whom experience isolation due to a lack of support and information. To address this imbalance, Macmillan Cancer Support recently introduced the role of thyroid cancer information nurse specialist.

Geraldine Hamilton, who is based in Glasgow, provides information via the charity’s telephone support line, receiving calls from across the UK. Information and support is also provided via email and through the charity’s online links.


Geraldine Hamilton provides information by phone, email and online
via Macmillan’s thyroid cancer peer support group

Ms Hamilton has 30 years’ experience as a nurse, mainly in oncology and palliative care. Before starting in her new role in January, she was a cancer information nurse on Macmillan’s support line, which is staffed by 30 nurses; in 2013, they responded to nearly 150,000 calls.

‘There are few thyroid cancer specialist nurses in the UK,’ she says. ‘It is a role that tends to get tagged on to existing nursing roles in endocrinology because it affects such a small group of patients.

Clinical trials

‘I have found that many patients are well versed about thyroid cancer. A lot of my clinical knowledge is called on because people are often looking for research and information on clinical trials, treatments and side effects.’

Before starting her new role, Ms Hamilton spent several months working with Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow and the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff to update her knowledge. She has a background in thyroid cancer from her time working as a clinical trials nurse at Cancer Research UK.

The post has been funded by the charity as part of a pilot project launched in response to calls from Laura Moss, clinical oncologist at the Velindre centre, to tackle the lack of support for thyroid cancer patients.

In addition to Ms Hamilton’s role, the charity has funded a national thyroid cancer clinical nurse specialist role based at the Velindre centre. Ingrid Haupt-Schott has provided email and telephone support to patients and health professionals since 2014.

Ms Hamilton and Ms Haupt-Schott are working on a series of education resources for specialist nurses working with this patient group, as well as on a learning zone model for the Macmillan site, providing dedicated thyroid cancer information.

Demographic

Women in the 20-50 year age group are more commonly affected by thyroid cancer. The outlook for the most common types of this cancer is good, but patients will need annual check-ups for the rest of their lives because it has the potential to recur later.

‘Although it is rare, numbers have doubled since the early 1990s,’ Ms Hamilton says. ‘For women, numbers have quadrupled in the 30-35 year age group. Patients are often upset that thyroid cancer is considered an “easy” cancer because it mostly affects younger people and can be treated successfully. However, some patients have long-term issues and require ongoing support after treatment has finished.’

She communicates with patients in a variety of ways. At the moment, she receives about two calls a day. After each call, she emails the person to run through what has been discussed and provides information and online support links.

Adapt

‘You can receive a call from someone looking for up-to-the minute data who is articulate and well read, and the next call can be from a person who does not know anything,’ says Ms Hamilton. ‘You have to adapt to information to each person.’

She also provides information online via the charity’s thyroid cancer peer support group, commenting on discussions as and when members request her input. She has introduced herself as part of a thyroid cancer Q&A session on the charity’s Facebook page. This proved successful and more web chats are planned.

‘The reaction from patients to my role has been positive’, Ms Hamilton says. ‘People with thyroid cancer can feel isolated because often they will have not met anyone else with that type of cancer. They are delighted to know that there is someone who understands what they are going through and has an appreciation of the challenges they face.’


Julie Penfold is a freelance health writer

 

 

 

 

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