Pioneering study aims to improve cancer gynaecology patients’ wellbeing

Dr John Tidy from Weston Park Hospital
Dr John Tidy from Weston Park Hospital
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n Gynaecologic cancers are the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in the female reproductive organs, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, and vulva.

AS the country marks the end of a national campaign raising awareness of cervical cancer, Sarah Dunn found out more about a pioneering research study into gynaecological cancers taking place in Sheffield.

Dr Georgina Jones

Dr Georgina Jones

HEARING the words ‘you have cancer’ is one of the most traumatic experiences someone can endure.

And while research projects looking for treatments and ultimately a cure for the disease are unquestionable vital, finding out about the impact such a diagnosis can have on a patient personally is not something to be overlooked.

That’s why news of a pioneering study into how gynaecological cancers affect the mental and physical wellbeing of women taking place in Sheffield is so welcome.

The research covers the four main gynaecological cancers – ovarian, cervical, vulvar and endometrial - and is being conducted by a specialist team.

healthmainsd'The Cancer Research Centre at Sheffield's Weston Park Hospital

healthmainsd'The Cancer Research Centre at Sheffield's Weston Park Hospital

Among those working on the project is Dr Georgina Jones, social scientist and senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, and Dr John Tidy, consultant gynaecological oncologist at Weston Park Hospital in Sheffield.

Through interviews with patients the team has examined mental well-being, mobility and side effects caused by surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment for these types of cancer.

The £90,000 study, which was funded by Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, aims to discover how women feel during different stages of their illness and what can be done to support them through their treatment.

The physical changes that appear as a result of the diagnosis and treatment have also been looked into, such as looking at how the bowel, bladder and sexual function have been affected.

Results will equip medical professionals with detailed knowledge so that they can offer the best advice to gynaecological cancer patients, allowing them to make more informed decisions on their choice of cancer treatment.

The research findings are now being collated and analysed, with results set to be published later this year.

Dr Jones said; “Back in 2006 I did a systematic review looking at the quality of life of women diagnosed with gynaecological cancers.

“My findings led me to realise there was a need for research into how cancer treatment affected people’s quality of life and their general wellbeing, both mental and physical.

“Following this, I successfully applied for £90,000 of funding from Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity to ensure this could take place.”

The participants, who ranged in age from a young woman of 24 to an elderly pensioner who joined the study at the age of 88, were asked to complete questionnaires a five time points during their treatment.

A small number of other participants were also interviewed face-to-face.

Dr Jones added: “Being diagnosed with cancer is a fearful time for any patient.

“If we can better inform women about what they may experience during their treatment, both physically and emotionally, they will be more reassured and better prepared for what they are likely to go through.’’

Dr John Tidy said: “Cervical cancer is highly preventable and, if pre-cancerous cells are detected early, the patient can be treated and the chance of developing cancer further down the line is vastly reduced.

“However, our biggest concern is that an increasing number of young women aged between 25 and 30 years are not taking up the screening programme because there is a general feeling amongst that age group that they are too young to be affected.

“I would urge women to be vigilant when it comes to cervical screening and not assume that cancer is something they won’t get because they are too young or don’t know anyone who has been diagnosed.

“It is vital that they are screened regularly so that any abnormalities are treated early.”

Rachel Thorpe, director of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, said they were delighted to have been able to fund the pioneering study.

“We hope our funding will help towards ensuring women can be given the best possible information.’’

Gynaecologic cancers are the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in the female reproductive organs, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, and vulva.

There are many factors that cause gynaecological cancers. Medical research has discovered that some classes of genes promote the growth of cancer. The abnormal function of these genes can be acquired - for example through smoking, aging, environmental influences - or inherited.

Regular screening can detect certain types of gynaecological cancers in their earlier stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful and a complete cure is a possibility. Diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices play a significant role in the prevention of cancer.

Gynaecological cancers are treated by using one or more of the following; surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. The choice of therapy depends on the type and stage of the cancer.