A North Yorkshire hospital has revealed it is taking part in a new clinical trial to investigate the best way to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reduce the impact of two major side-effects for women undergoing breast cancer treatment.
Hot flushes and night sweats are common side-effects of current breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and anti-hormone drugs.
Experienced by up to 70 per cent of women receiving treatment, they can have a huge impact on their daily lives, often affecting employment, personal relationships and general quality of life, and sometimes leading to women not completing the full course of their treatment.
A teacher, aged 52, who will take part in the trial, said: "I had never expected hot flushes to be quite so awful. Some nights I just do not sleep as the hot sweats keep me awake and then I have to work the next day as though everything’s ok and it’s not. This research offers some hope for women like me who just want to find ways to manage these awful symptoms.”
Researchers have already shown that CBT – a type of ‘talking therapy’ – can help to reduce the impact that hot flushes and night sweats have on women undergoing breast cancer treatment, allowing them to regain a sense of control over these symptoms.
Although CBT is known to be effective, it is not currently offered routinely within the NHS for women with breast cancer. At present CBT can only be given to groups by trained clinical psychologists and there is nothing currently considered a universal gold standard of care in breast cancer treatment, meaning support to help patients manage these difficult symptoms varies across the country.
Now, following a grant of over £300,000 by charity Breast Cancer Now, Professor Deborah Fenlon, from Swansea University, will lead a three-year clinical trial (MENOS 4) Southampton Clinical Trials Unit, at the University of Southampton, to investigate whether the same CBT could be delivered effectively by local breast cancer nurses. If so, this could significantly improve access to CBT, as most women will see a breast cancer nurse during their treatment.
York Hospital is one of six UK hospitals participating in the trial – along with Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, Luton and Dunstable University Hospital, Yeovil District Hospital, Walsall Manor Hospital and Royal Glamorgan Hospital – which will involve up to 160 women undergoing breast cancer treatment who are experiencing severe and frequent hot flushes or night sweats.
Half of the women will receive group CBT from a breast cancer nurse, who has been specially trained by clinical psychologists to deliver the intervention, involving six weekly sessions lasting 90 minutes each, while the other half will receive whatever support they would normally receive.
The researchers will evaluate the impact of CBT on the women’s hot flushes and night sweats after 26 weeks. In addition, group CBT sessions will be recorded and analysed by independent psychologists, to assess its effectiveness when delivered by breast cancer nurses.
A process evaluation will also be conducted to explore the ways in which breast care nurses were able to implement the group therapy, so that, if it is successful, a blueprint could be created to show how this service might be organised locally.
Lynn Moffatt, breast care specialist nurse at York Hospital, said: “We are delighted that York Hospital is participating in this trial, and hope it can make a real difference to patients in the region who are experiencing hot flushes and night sweats as a side-effect of their breast cancer treatment.
“Hot flushes can have a major impact on women’s lives: affecting their work, social life and disrupting their sleep. We look forward to the results of this trial, and hope that it will enable much wider access to CBT among breast cancer patients.”
Any women being treated at any of the centres taking part in the trial who are experiencing troublesome hot flushes as a side-effect of treatment are encouraged to ask their breast care nurse about the study, which is currently recruiting participants.