Why emotional care is critical in breast cancer treatment

October marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, giving people across the globe an opportunity to show their support for those affected. In this blog, Nene Ibokessien, Senior Research Associate, shares why gentle care and emotional support are paramount to cancer treatment.

Breast cancer, like all cancer types, is a shocking diagnosis to receive. Despite giant leaps and bounds in research to find a cure and improve treatment, the journey to overcoming it can be just as brutal as the disease itself. For this reason, gentle emotional care delivered alongside effective treatment is crucial to helping people through the experience.

This encapsulates Picker’s Principles of Person Centred Care. It’s a framework designed to address every facet of care across patient pathways and where healthcare professionals recognise every patient as an individual, encourage them to play an active role in their care, and respect their needs and preferences.

Worldwide, breast cancer is responsible for 12.5% of the total number of new cases diagnosed in 2020, making it the most common cancer type. It is a disease primarily associated with women, but it also affects men, with around 370 men diagnosed yearly in the UK alone.

To improve care, we must go to those living with breast cancer. Picker runs the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey (NCPES) on behalf of NHS England, an important part of the NHS Cancer Programme. It places patient experience on par with clinical effectiveness and safety as a key strategic priority. The 2021 results, released in July, revealed some important insights into cancer care, with 13,533 (22.8%) respondents being breast cancer patients.

The overall results revealed many positive care experiences for breast cancer patients, with 94.2% rating their care as seven or above out of ten. Patients shared that teams delivered quick and clear communication and collaboration, with 91.3% saying the whole care team worked well together. Furthermore, 93.1% had a main contact, and of these 84.6% found it very or quite easy to contact their main contact person.

Taking the time to work with patients to ensure involvement in decision-making was evident, with 92.0% of patients saying that a team member helped create a care plan to address any needs or concerns. Nearly all patients (98%) responded that the care team reviewed their care plan with them to ensure it was up to date. 91.3% said that hospital staff provided them with relevant information on available support and 88.0% said they were always treated with respect and dignity while in the hospital. Kindness, communication, and respect are vital components of emotional care, and the survey showed evidence that in many areas healthcare teams delivered this.

Nothing can stop the upset and uncertainty that comes with being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. The anguish can be alleviated only through a team that works to deliver quality, person centred care that focuses on empathy, understanding, and kindness. Small acts can make an immense difference in the journey of someone being treated for cancer. Each interaction between healthcare teams and patients is an opportunity to create a positive experience that is paramount to person centred care.

To learn more about breast cancer’s signs, symptoms, and causes, visit the NHS website.

To find the full details of the 2021 NCPES results, visit the dedicated survey website here.

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