European Cancer Nursing Day (ECND21), takes place every year on 18 May, organised by the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS). This year, it will focus on the impact cancer nurses can have on preventing cancer. A special online event to celebrate ECND21 will feature a recorded address by the EU’s Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and a presentation from Carolina Espina of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Cancer nurses across the continent and beyond will share their important message on social media that the best approach to tackle the growing cancer burden is prevention.
Here, EONS President, Johan de Munter, explains that cancer nurses are at the forefront of prevention and central to the campaign to bring down Europe’s stubbornly high cancer burden, but need support to maximise their impact.
According to the World Health Organisation (Europe), up to 40% of all cancer cases in Europe can be prevented, but sustainable cancer prevention requires a change of attitude in society. As the most trusted group of healthcare professionals and the largest group in the cancer care community, cancer nurses can drive this change, playing a key role in raising awareness about risk and the most effective ways to prevent cancer.
Cancer nurses are experts in health promotion, at the forefront of the interface between patients and the wider community, and they are uniquely placed to have a major impact on health literacy and health behaviour in this crucial area. They empower and educate people to reduce their cancer risk by adopting a healthy lifestyle – increasing their physical activity, improving their diet and giving up smoking. They encourage them to access primary screening, seek early detection and advise cancer survivors to take up screening for second malignancies; and, they already lead the drive for vaccination, which can help stop infections that cause some cancers. Thus cancer nurses have the ability to act as leaders in strengthening cancer control within and outside their practice.
The Covid-19 pandemic is now expected to continue to cause health problems for months, maybe years, into the future. The implications for health promotion, prevention and screening have taken on new importance given the need for ongoing attention to acute and long-term health risks. The health behaviour of many people has changed and screening strategies were discontinued during the pandemic, setting up the risk for collateral disease load, such as an increase in advanced cancers by delayed cancer diagnoses. Again, in this new and concerning landscape, cancer nurses can have an important key role in implementing cancer prevention and early detection strategies during and beyond the pandemic as comprehensive cancer risk assessment occurs regularly in oncology nursing practice.
However, although it is clear that cancer nurses, the largest group of cancer care professionals, have a key role in driving prevention and early detection as well as in diagnosis, treatment and quality of life of cancer patients and survivors, there is a great discrepancy in the education and recognition of cancer nursing professionals across Europe. This inequality is a major barrier to ensuring a more secure, better prepared and resilient EU in the fight against and prevention of cancer.
EONS is working on a comprehensive prevention plan to address these issues but cannot do it alone. To realise the full potential of the cancer nursing community to drive cancer cases down, cancer nurses should be included as equal partners in education and research projects, as well as receiving financial and technical support from the EU4Health programme. EONS also believes that Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan should embrace the expertise of the cancer nursing community. The proposals in the Plan for an ‘Inter-specialty cancer training programme’ is welcome, but should have cancer nurses at its core and fully acknowledge their expanding role if patient care – and prevention – is to keep improving. Cancer nurses should be included in the Plan as equal partners with medical oncologists, radiologists, oncology surgeons, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals in cancer. Only then can we strengthen and support the EU cancer nursing community in this important work and see the full impact of prevention on cancer patients, survivors, their families and carers – and our society as a whole.