5.5 Support and communication

5.5 Support and communication

Screening using a validated screening tool, assessment and referral to appropriate health professionals and community-based support services is required to meet the needs of individual women, their families and carers.

In addition to the common issues outlined in the Appendix, specific issues that may arise include:

  • treatment-related side effects including loss of fertility, sexual dysfunction and menopause, which require sensitive discussion and possible referral to a clinician skilled in this area
  • maintaining vaginal health, managing dryness, bleeding, stenosis, dyspareunia, atrophic vaginitis, fistulas and pain as well as prevention of treatment-induced vaginal stenosis through early referral to a specialist nurse or women’s health physiotherapist for advice
  • comorbidities where treatment for depression is required
  • coping with hair loss (refer to Look Good, Feel Better; see ’Resource List’)
  • malnutrition risk as identified by a validated malnutrition screening tool or unintentional weight loss of greater than five per cent of usual body weight
  • lower limb lymphoedema and lymphadenectomy, a common treatment side effect in women with gynaecological cancers (NBCC & NCCI 2003) that can restrict mobility (referral to a
  • physiotherapist or trained lymphoedema massage specialist may be needed) (Beesley et al. 2007)
  • physical symptoms including pain and fatigue
  • bladder or bowel dysfunction, gastrointestinal or abdominal symptoms, which may need monitoring and assessment
  • bowel obstruction due to malignancy (women need to be alerted to possible symptoms and advised to seek immediate medical assessment)
  • decline in mobility and/or functional status as a result of treatment (a referral to physiotherapy and occupational therapy may be needed)
  • emotional distress arising from fear of disease recurrence, changes in body image, returning to work, anxiety/depression, relationship or interpersonal problems and sexuality concerns
  • potential isolation from normal support networks, particularly for rural women who are staying away from home for treatment
  • abdominal ascites (abdominal symptoms need monitoring and assessment)
  • cognitive changes as a result of treatment (such as altered memory, attention and concentration)
  • financial and employment issues (such as loss of income and assistance with returning to work, and cost of treatment, travel and accommodation)
  • legal issues including advance care planning, appointing a power of attorney or enduring guardian, completing a will and making an insurance, superannuation or social security claim on the basis of terminal illness or permanent disability
  • the need for appropriate information for women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Rehabilitation may be required at any point of the care pathway from preparing for treatment through to disease-free survival and palliative care.

Issues that may need to be addressed include managing cancer-related fatigue, cognitive changes, improving physical endurance, achieving independence in daily tasks, returning to work and ongoing adjustment to disease and its sequelae.

Early referral to palliative care can improve the quality of life for people with cancer and, in some cases, may be associated with survival benefits (Haines 2011; Temel et al. 2010; Zimmermann et al. 2014).

The lead clinician should ensure timely and appropriate referral to palliative care services. Referral to palliative care services should be based on need, not prognosis.

Patients should be encouraged to develop an advance care plan (AHMAC 2011).

Ensure the needs and preferences of the person’s family and carers are assessed and directly inform support and guidance about their role (Palliative Care Australia 2018).

Further information

Refer patients and carers to Palliative Care Australia.

The lead clinician should:

  • discuss the management of any of the issues identified in section 5.5.1)
  • explain the treatment summary and follow-up care plan
  • provide information about the signs and symptoms of recurrent disease
  • provide information about secondary prevention and healthy living
  • provide clear information about the role and benefits of palliative care.

The lead clinician should ensure regular, timely, two-way communication with the woman’s general practitioner regarding:

  • the follow-up care plan
  • potential late effects
  • supportive and palliative care requirements
  • the woman’s progress
  • recommendations from the multidisciplinary team
  • any shared care arrangements
  • a process for rapid re-entry to medical services for women with suspected recurrence.