A structured programme for breast cancer survivors, tested in Singapore for the first time, has proved beneficial.
"They receive a lot of information on what to expect during chemothera.py or radiation, but there’s nothing on how to return to normalcy. How should they eat? Should they take on a new sport? Are these side-effects normal?"
- Mrs Tan Yee Pin, Head of Psychosocial Oncology at NCCS
A structured programme for breast cancer survivors, tested in Singapore for the first time, has proved beneficial in reducing post-treatment side effects like fatigue, appetite loss and body aches.
The programme was conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) who hoped to address a growing need for structured survivorship care.
“We’ve wanted to conduct this trial for quite some time now. Not just because we believe it would fill an important gap between cancer treatment and cancer survivorship, but because numerous patients on the ground have requested for such a programme to be implemented,” said Mrs Tan Yee Pin, Head of Psychosocial Oncology at NCCS.
“The transition to life after treatment is a hurdle all cancer survivors have to negotiate. They receive a lot of information on what to expect during chemotherapy or radiation, but there’s nothing on how to return to normalcy. How should they eat? Should they take on a new sport? Are these side-effects normal? Survivors have to grapple with many concerns, and we wanted to help address them.”
72 breast cancer survivors took part in the trial, which ran from August last year to January this year. Half of the patients were given information booklets on the self-management of cancer and treatment-related symptoms. The other half participated in three “survivor support sessions”, each lasting 4.5 hours and covering aspects of survivorship recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine.
“It was important that the programme cover all the grounds of survivor care. As such, we made sure that there would be a multidisciplinary involvement of healthcare professionals, ranging from a pharmacist, physiotherapist, advanced practice nurse, dietitian, neuropsychologist, medical social worker, to a breast cancer survivor.
"This allowed participants to raise questions, learn how to manage different post-treatment side effects, and even interact with others living with cancer,” explained NUS Associate Professor Alexandre Chan, who led the trial.
Results from the trial showed that those who had undergone the support sessions experienced large improvements in physical symptoms, like fatigue, appetite loss and physical distress. Prof Chan, who also practises in NCCS as a Specialist Pharmacist, sees these results as encouraging, as they prove the programme’s feasibility and effectiveness in providing survivorship care.
Moving forward, the team hopes to run the programme on a regular basis, so as to provide sustainable care for cancer survivors. The team also hopes to adapt the programme for wider implementation across other cancer groups, such as young adults and adolescents.
“We’re in the midst of improving on and laying the groundwork, so that we can build on it in the future. The ideal would be to have dedicated areas for survivorship wellness programmes to be conducted. And I think we would be able to do much more in the new campus where we have more space, capacity and manpower,” said Mrs Tan.