Sowing the seeds of knowledge in brachytherapy

Claire Deering Brachytherapy Clinical Nurse Specialist

Claire Deering, Brachytherapy Clinical Nurse Specialist at Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, explains why it’s important for prostate nurse specialists to build and share their knowledge of brachytherapy – even in centres where it isn’t currently offered.

These are exciting times in the treatment of prostate cancer in the UK. The emergence of brachytherapy as a primary treatment option alongside radical prostatectomy (RP) and external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) is providing greater choice for many patients. Although brachytherapy is not suitable for everyone – and indeed not readily offered to everyone – in patients where it is appropriate, it’s a great option. Evidence shows that brachytherapy not only achieves efficacy equivalent to traditional treatments, it also offers important advantages in quality of life, convenience and patient experience. It’s no surprise that patients are increasingly asking about it. At our own centre at the Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH), a growing number of referrals come from curious patients who have heard about brachytherapy through the course of their own research and want to find out if it’s an option for them. But we’re not on our own; it’s a similar story in trusts right across the NHS.

Such growing interest once again shines a light on the important role that clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) play in helping patients make choices about their care. Oncology CNSs are at the heart of multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) and, as a report from the National Cancer Programme as far back as 2010 shows, make an invaluable contribution to supporting patients across the whole care pathway. An essential component of that support is the informed communication of in-depth knowledge about both the disease and all available treatment options. We are in a unique and privileged position where patients quickly recognise that we’re on their side – and they look to us for guidance. We must repay that trust. In the case of prostate clinical nurse specialists, this leads to an interesting conundrum: a high number of prostate CNSs do not yet have access to brachytherapy services – meaning that their exposure to it, and as a result, their understanding of it, is naturally limited. However, although local availability of brachytherapy is variable across the country, patient awareness of the treatment is becoming less restricted. It is our clinical duty to be able to give them informed and neutral answers.