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Focus on carers in brain cancer research

Carers of brain cancer patients are the focus of a research project led by Associate Professor Georgia Halkett, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine. The unique home-based education and support program has been developed as a response to the distress and trauma carers can experience when caring for a patient with brain cancer.

“We are targeting carers of brain cancer patients because we know their distress levels are often higher than patients,” Associate Professor Halkett said.

“We know this program has the potential to make an enormous difference to patients and carers.”

Associate Professor Halkett believes that supporting carers effectively, and improving their confidence in their ability to provide appropriate care, will not only have a positive impact on carers and their patients, but on the wider medical system, as it will reduce the number of times a patient needs to access hospital and other health services.

Associate Professor Georgia Halkett is leading a research project focusing on carers.
Associate Professor Georgia Halkett is leading a research project focusing on carers.

A $100,000 grant from the Cancer Council supported an initial pilot study with 12 participants, and the commencement of a randomised controlled trial (RCT) involving 55 participants from both the public and private sectors in WA.

The support provided to carers consisted of an initial phone assessment to determine their needs, a home visit by a neuro-oncology nurse, a customised resource manual based on carers’ identified needs and ongoing follow up for 12 months. The nurse was able to monitor progress of the patient and carer, provide ongoing support and enquire if any further information was needed, or referrals to other services required.

The results from the pilot study enabled Associate Professor Halkett to attract further grants from the Cancer and Palliative Care Network of WA in 2014-2015, and a three year project grant from Cancer Australia commencing in 2016. The current RCT involves recruiting 240 carers in Perth and Sydney, and monitoring their distress over a 12 month period.

The project is being run in conjunction with medical oncologist Professor Anna Nowak from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and the School of Medicine and Pharmacology at UWA. It also involves collating data to calculate potential savings to the health system.

“If we can demonstrate that this intervention has an impact and is cost-neutral or even cost-saving, we could see this program rolled out across Australia and potentially become part of routine clinical practice for carers of other cancer patients,” Associate Professor Halkett said.