The Epping Breast Unit is going from strength to strength
The Unit at St Margaret’s Hospital recently received a clean bill of health from the national screening service as one of the best performing units of its kind in the country for screening women and it is now gearing itself to meet the needs of a new group of women who will soon be eligible for breast screening.
The Breast Unit was recently inspected by the East of England Breast Cancer Screening Quality Assurance team who gave it a thumbs-up saying it is one of the best performing units in the eastern health region.
Five years ago, the Unit suffered a backlog of women needing their three yearly mammograms when it was closed for a year following concerns by the Quality Assurance team. Now 98 per cent of women in the west Essex area are receiving their invites for mammograms within 36 months and there is currently a 72 per cent take up to the invitation from the 36,000 women aged 50 to 64 who are eligible for routine screening.
Unit Manager Janet Skeys said: “Any woman with breast symptoms who are referred to the Unit by their GPs is seen within two weeks whilst our breast screening service is now performing at full strength as we gear ourselves up for a lot more work.
“By the end of this year, we will be expanding the service as the age group for eligible women for breast screening is being ‘stretched’ from the ages of 47 to 73 which will increase our workload by 41 per cent.”
The Unit’s two mobile breast screening vehicles are busy as ever with one at the Unit itself at the moment whilst the second is currently at Saffron Walden.
The Unit also continues to play a key role in the care and treatment of patients diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Unit’s Lead Breast Care Nurse, Philippa Dooher, is now an advanced nurse practitioner for breast cancer and is able to see new and follow-up patients in the breast clinics.
Phillipa and the other breast care nurses are seeing all breast cancer patients six months after their course of treatment finishes to provide a more holistic assessment of their condition and to discuss how they move on following their treatment.
Patients are also invited to special sessions to allow them to share their experiences with fellow patients and to listen to guest speakers who talk about such topics as , diettry advice; exercise; and body image.
Philippa said: “We also have a dedicated family history service with the North East Thames Genetic service visiting us every month to assess our patients should they require genetic testing. We also offer our patients Reiki, manual lymphatic drainage and reflexology whilst our Fabulous and Beautiful (FAB) volunteers help patients with skin care, make-up and hair wear when under treatment.
“Maintaining bone strength during chemotherapy treatment is also important and we have a nurse who is funded by charitable funds to assess patients’ bone health, discuss results of bone density scans and give lifestyle advice.”
The Unit also continues to be at the forefront of research into effective drugs treatments for preventing breast cancer. The Unit has already been involved in a number of leading trials for new drugs, linking up with London reaching hospital and institutes. One of these trials, in the late 1990s led to the common use of tamoxifen after it was shown that the drug reduced the incidence of breast cancer by one third in high risk patients.
The Unit is now examining the effectiveness of another drug called anastrozole. Breast Surgeon and principal investigator of this study, Mr Howard Bradpiece, said: “Recent research has shown that anastrozole could be more effective than tamoxifen at preventing the return of cancer in post-menopausal women who have already had breast cancer. This research also indicates that the drug may prevent breast cancer in women who have not developed the disease. The other advantage of this drug is that it appears to have fewer side effects than tamoxifen.
“We are part of an international study which involves a total of 6,000 women worldwide who have high risk factors of contracting breast cancer. The five year trial is being coordinated by Cancer Research UK, and will help us determine whether or not anastrozole can be used effectively to prevent breast cancer.”
The Unit is also taking part in a further trial of both anastrozole and tamoxifen to see which is more effective in preventing new cancers for women who have had early forms of breast cancer in the milk ducts of the breast called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
Added Mr Bradpiece: “We have been inviting local women to take part in both trials. We are proud to be part of this process of continuing to push back the boundaries in finding new and effective drug treatments against breast cancer.”
Janet said that the diagnostics team continues to grow in strength and depth with staff gaining new skills and qualifications to improve the level of service offered to patients.
Janet added: “We have three consultant radiologists who have made a real difference to the department. They are young and enthusiastic about our work and are keen to take forward new innovations and ways of working.
“Our diagnostics team has been further strengthened with two mammographers qualifying as film readers, another who has just qualified as an advanced practitioner who can carry out ultrasounds, and another who is studying advanced interventional techniques. Also, one of our radiography assistants has now qualified to work alongside the trained mammographers, which means that junior staff are ‘coming through the ranks’ and developing their skills as part of our team.
“Apart from the expansion of our client base in future, we are also looking forward to moving into a new technical era with the purchase of digital mammography systems – the next generation of breast screening machinery which will ensure we stay one step ahead as a leading Unit in breast care.
“These are certainly exciting times and we are all excited about the future and our continuing success as a Breast unit serving patients in west Essex.”