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Macmillan nurse Sue Cowdy talks to NT about lung cancer

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Three minute interview with Sue Cowdy, Macmillan lung cancer nurse specialist at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, West Sussex, and member of the UK Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC).

NT: The UKLCC recently launched the first national plan to improve lung cancer survival rates in the UK. Why did you feel the need to raise the profile of UK lung cancer patients?

SC: UK lung cancer survival rates are the worst in Europe. Four people every hour die from the disease in the UK, and half of all lung cancer patients will die within six months of diagnosis.

UK lung cancer services also seriously lag behind the rest of Europe, and there are significant disparities in service provision across the whole of the UK.

NT: Why did you decide to produce the plan? And how did you come up with the 12 points?

SC: Because we knew UK services were inferior to the rest of Europe, the UKLCC was formed to improve survival rates. The plan was developed to provide firm objectives to achieve this.

Leading lung cancer specialists, including nurses, were invited to attend a workshop where all issues that could improve the care of lung cancer patients were discussed.

The twelve points, or recommendations, for the plan were produced from ideas and themes that came out of this workshop.

NT: Do you feel there is a stigma attached to having lung cancer?

SC: Yes, definitely. If you have lung cancer there is the false assumption that you must be a smoker, although thousands of people with lung cancer have never smoked.

Smokers can develop other cancers – patients with breast cancer may be smokers, but because breast cancer is not attributable to smoking there is not the same stigma.

Stigmatising people just makes them feel guilty and is not helpful to patient care. We all need to be a lot more proactive and positive about how we can help to remove this stigma.

NT: What can nurses do to help improve the care of patients with lung cancer?

SC: Nurses are instrumental in breaking down barriers and have a huge advocacy role to play in providing optimum treatment and care for lung cancer patients, many of whom are elderly men.

Nurses also need to have greater awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, especially practice nurses who may be the first point of call for many patients. If nurses are more alert to the signs, they can encourage the patient to seek help and the disease may be picked up earlier.

I would encourage non-specialist nurses to familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of lung cancer because the earlier a patient is diagnosed, the better chance we have to improve their quality of life and survival.

Interview with Clare Lomas

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