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Editorial

Why we need to end the stigma around cancer

Cancer screening and diagnosis rates have fallen during the pandemic, so focusing on hard-to-reach groups, such as people who are obese and black men, is vital

Prostate cancer stigma
Picture: iStock

Every two minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with cancer, according to Cancer Research UK. As cancer nurses, you will know better than anyone how a person’s cancer affects their whole family and everyone who loves them.

It is hard to believe, therefore, that stigma and taboo have a place in cancer care, and can have a devastating impact on screening and early diagnosis rates.

Recent nurse-led research at the University of Sunderland found that people who are obese are failing to access vital cancer screening services due to fears of stigma and judgement about their condition.

Cancer screening and diagnosis rates fell during the COVID-19 pandemic

The stigma does not end with this cohort of patients. At Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, London, nurses have set up the Brother to Brother, Man to Man monthly support group to combat stigma about the disease in black communities.

Amelia Barber, a prostate cancer clinical nurse specialist at the trust, said: ‘It’s not uncommon for a black man to be diagnosed with prostate cancer and not tell his family because the stigma is so great.’

Cancer screening and diagnosis rates have already taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so a greater focus on hard-to-reach groups is vital. Ultimately, improvements in early diagnosis will result in better prognoses.

Advice on how to talk to people when they find out their cancer cannot be cured

While many more people are living with cancer for longer, a huge swathe of people are grappling with a poor prognosis.

In our analysis article, Cancer care: how to speak to patients with a poor prognosis, Sinead Cope, a senior cancer nurse and Maggie's west London centre head, offers advice on how to talk to people when they find out their cancer cannot be cured, explaining the importance of balancing hope with honesty.

Meanwhile, Dorset County Hospital gynae-oncology clinical nurse specialist Hilary Maxwell reminds nurses not to forget about their own emotions, adding: ‘These conversations are exhausting and it is important that we, as nurses, recharge so that we never lose sight of what someone else may be going through.’

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