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Nutrition for people with head and neck cancer – translational cancer research study

This study is 'Best-evidence to best practice: Implementing an innovative model of care for nutritional management of patients with head and neck cancer'.

It is led by Merran Findlay from Sydney Catalyst, and is making sure people with head and neck cancer get the right nutritional information throughout their treatment.

About the author

Merran Findlay is the Executive Research Lead – Cancer Nutrition and Oncology Specialist Dietitian across the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital-Chris O'Brien Lifehouse partnership.

An Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, she was awarded a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council ‘Translating Research Into Practice Fellowship’ in 2015, co-funded by the Cancer Institute NSW.

She is working to implement an innovative model of nutrition care for patients with head and neck cancer.

Merran Findlay

Who is the study aiming to help?

The study is aiming to help people with head and neck cancers and their caregivers, as well as members of head and neck cancer multidisciplinary teams. 

What is the issue?

People with head and neck cancers can have difficulties eating and drinking enough to get the nutrition they need. 

When someone is malnourished they do not get through treatment as well, and often recover more slowly. They are also more likely to be admitted to hospital and remain longer.

This can be made worse by cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

 

What kind of care is now being offered to people with head and neck cancers?

Evidence shows people with head and neck cancers need access to expertise in dietetic care before, during and after treatment.

The pilot study is providing:

A supportive care-led pre-treatment clinic

This is a protected, dedicated time for people with head and neck cancers and their caregivers to learn about the nutrition care they need.

They see a specialist dietitian and a clinical nurse consultant where they are taught about the impact of their treatment and what they can do to stay well nourished.

People with head and neck cancers are also required to use nutrition monitoring at regular time periods throughout their treatment – before, during and after.

A nutrition care dashboard

This is now integrated into multidisciplinary team weekly discussions.

The dietitians provide nutrition care outcome measures, meaning that a validated nutrition assessment tool is applied at regular intervals.

It is recognised as the gold standard in nutrition assessment of patients with cancer, and allows patients to identify the key symptoms impacting their nutrition.

Early nutritional assessment and monitoring of nutritional status is an essential part of best practice care.

What’s next?

Final results from the study are scheduled to be available in early 2018.

The team is currently looking at opportunities to scale up the study and implement successful strategies to other clinical settings.

What is the role of Sydney Catalyst?

Sydney Catalyst is supporting this study, and Merran Findlay is a member of the Translational Cancer Research Centre.

Merran credits Sydney Catalyst with a key role in the success of the project

Their involvement has been important in creating the right access to people with the right expertise, and breaking down many of the barriers involved in this kind of study.

What is the study doing?

What is the study doing?

The study is implementing best practice clinical guidelines to ensure people with head and neck cancers and their caregivers receive the specialist nutritional care and advice they need.

Research lead Merran Findlay is working to identify what helps give best practice nutritional care to people with head and neck cancers, and what barriers there are to it.

This project is implementing and evaluating a best-practice dietetic model of care for a high risk patient group.

What kind of care is now being offered to people with head and neck cancers?

Evidence shows people with head and neck cancers need access to expertise in dietetic care before, during and after treatment.

The pilot study is providing:

A supportive care-led pre-treatment clinic

This is a protected, dedicated time for people with head and neck cancers and their caregivers to learn about the nutrition care they need.

They see a specialist dietitian and a clinical nurse consultant where they are taught about the impact of their treatment and what they can do to stay well nourished.

People with head and neck cancers are also required to use nutrition monitoring at regular time periods throughout their treatment – before, during and after.

A nutrition care dashboard

This is now integrated into multidisciplinary team weekly discussions.

The dietitians provide nutrition care outcome measures, meaning that a validated nutrition assessment tool is applied at regular intervals.

It is recognised as the gold standard in nutrition assessment of patients with cancer, and allows patients to identify the key symptoms impacting their nutrition.

Early nutritional assessment and monitoring of nutritional status is an essential part of best practice care.

What outcomes are coming from this study?

What outcomes are coming from this study?

Final results from the study are yet to be released, but lead Merran Findlay describes some of the positive outcomes and trends that are emerging.

More people with head and neck cancers are now receiving the right nutritional information through changes happening throughout cancer care.

There has been improved uptake of regular nutrition assessment with validated assessment tools, indicating behaviour change amongst health professionals, which can be difficult to achieve in large and complex health systems.

“Data suggests we have potentially saved unplanned hospital admissions, implying potential cost savings as well,” Merran explains.

“If we can provide better support in an outpatient setting, that can prevent people becoming inpatients which of course benefits patients and their families and also the health system.”

What’s next?

Final results from the study are scheduled to be available in early 2018.

The team is currently looking at opportunities to scale up the study and implement successful strategies to other clinical settings.

What is the role of Sydney Catalyst?

Sydney Catalyst is supporting this study, and Merran Findlay is a member of the Translational Cancer Research Centre.

Merran credits Sydney Catalyst with a key role in the success of the project

Their involvement has been important in creating the right access to people with the right expertise, and breaking down many of the barriers involved in this kind of study.