By Dr Rebecca Case-Upton
Last week Lucy Willingale (Patient information and support leader) and I (Dr Rebecca Case-Upton – medical publications) attended the annual, ‘Britain against Cancer’ Conference in Westminster.
The conference was held on Tuesday 6 December and hosted by the all-party parliamentary group which is made up of members of parliament who have an interest in the topic of cancer. The conference provided us will lots of useful information, an opportunity to share ideas with other cancer charities and NHS bodies and the chance to reflect on where kidney cancer fits into national plans.
The opening presentation gave an overview of the state of cancer care in the UK, with the clear message that although survival rates are improving we are still significantly behind most countries in Europe and America. In 2015 a five year forward action plan for cancer was created by a cancer taskforce for NHS England. https://www.england.nhs.uk/2015/01/beat-cancer/. Many of the issues outlined in this plan were again discussed at this conference. The main focus for improvement should be addressing issues with workforce (not enough frontline staff), funding, early diagnosis, patient experience and improving equality for rarer cancers. All of these issues are very relevant for improving kidney cancer care and treatment.
Simon Stevens the Chief Executive of NHS England also spoke of the improvements that have been made over the past 10 years. Since the smoking ban was introduced in 2007 there are 1 million fewer smokers, reduced from 8 million to 7 million. Since 24% of kidney cancers are linked to smoking this is great news and may the shrinking numbers continue.1 Smoking is one of the three main risk factors for developing kidney cancer. Research has shown that if you regularly smoke 10 cigarettes a day, you’re one-and-a-half times more likely to develop kidney cancer compared to a non-smoker. This increases to twice as likely if you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day.2
Simon Stevens also mentioned the sugar tax to tackle rising obesity levels has unfortunately been watered down. 24% of kidney cancers are linked to obesity so we will watch and hope that obesity levels stop rising and plans are put in place to ensure this. 1
Earlier diagnosis of Kidney Cancer could make a huge difference to survival rates and people’s lives so we were very interested to learn that 200 million pounds has been set aside for screening programmes. Simon Stevens mentioned improving the bowel cancer screening but was not specific in how the NHS was going to allocate this money. Kidney Cancer UK will be campaigning heavily and supporting research to introduce a kidney cancer screening programme over the next few years and hope we can be included in this funding allocation.
Finally, Simon Stevens spoke about how there are many support services available for people with cancer. The social fibre he described included a variety of charities, churches, libraries, education centres and community groups but this was offset by the world perhaps becoming more isolating with technology and home deliveries. His point was that people are out there to help others but that it needs much clearer sign posting. This is something Kidney Cancer UK are keen to improve on. We are hoping to spread the word that we have lots to offer. By steadily increasing the number of support groups we run, continuing to advertise and provide our information days and communicating better with doctors and nurses so that they inform patients of what we have to offer.
Alongside these presentations was a talk by a patient representative, Kate Corney who is living with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Kate raised some very important issues about how we should be aiming to improve the image of cancer. She said that people are either perceived as a ‘survivor’, fighting and battling cancer or as a ‘sufferer’ associated with pity and tragedy. She said there were problems with both of these images. The survivor image would only get you so far and it suggests that patients have control which isn’t always the case. Even if you have been cured the survivor image suggests that it’s finished, the battle is over. But quite often it is when people need emotional support more than ever, when they have time to reflect on what has happened to them. Alternatively the ‘sufferer’ image can take peoples dignity away and induces a fear of cancer and may stop people going to the doctors in the first place. Kate said that for her both ‘survivor’ and ‘sufferer’ images could be lonely. In conclusion she said that Cancer should be demystified and cancer should be called ‘cancer’ and spoken about openly about. At Kidney Cancer UK we agree and aim to demystify and inform people about kidney cancer and provide support for people even after they get the all clear.
Both Lucy and I found the Britain against Cancer conference very useful and informative and we took away many new ideas of how we can aim to improve the work that we do within Kidney Cancer UK.
- http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/kidney-cancer/risk-factors Retrieved December 2016.
- http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cancer-of-the-kidney/Pages/Causes.aspx. Retrieved December 2016.