Spreading science that can save lives
Meet the cancer research nurse who's educating women about the disease to give them a better chance of early detection
AT FIRST glance, Nurse Teresa McKeogh may seem to be a small cog in the big machine of medical science – but to those at the forefront of the battle against cancer, Teresa and her fellow breast cancer research nurses play a crucial role.
Teresa, whose job at Cork University Hospital is funded by Breast Cancer Ireland, collects blood and tissue samples, enhances patients' understanding of the need for research and improvements in breast cancer care and acts as a patients' advocate, ensuring people are fully informed about their condition and treatment options.
That's why Teresa's role as a breast cancer research nurse is the focus of the Irish Independent 'FIT Magazine's City Series 10km run in Cork later this month – and why funds raised by the hundreds of athletes participating in the run will go towards supporting Teresa's role at Cork University Hospital.
The charity funding her position, Breast Cancer Ireland, is 'FIT Magazine's Charity of Choice for the event, which has so far attracted hundreds of participants and takes place in Cork on Sunday July 21.
Set up in 2006, Breast Cancer Ireland exists not only to raise awareness of breast cancer, but to raise the necessary funds for a co-ordinated research effort to beat it, explains Arnie Hill, Professor of Surgery at Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, consultant breast surgeon at Beaumont Hospital and Director of BCI.
"Our ambition at Breast Cancer Ireland is two-fold," he says.
"We want to improve patient outcomes by seeking collaboration and integration amongst breast cancer researchers nationally and internationally, and we want to promote and encourage women of all ages to be breast aware.
"Earlier detection leads to more positive patient outcomes," he explains.
"There are several excellent groups doing research into breast cancer in Ireland and we are one of them.
"But we're trying to support a coordinated approach so that we can all work together to answer research questions more promptly."
Ireland's 2,400 or so new cases of breast cancer each year are primarily treated in the country's eight designated cancer centres.
This, from the patient's point of view, is where Breast Cancer Ireland comes in:
"As a research charity we support these designated cancer services with breast cancer research nurses who facilitate the patients in donating blood and tissue samples."
Researchers are currently attempting to identify certain 'markers' in the bloodstream that might predict patients whose cancer may return:
"Our hope is that if we can pick up the indicators early on we can get a better outcome," adds Arnie.
'We try to have a breast cancer research nurse in each of the eight centres."
At the moment BCI has one nurse each in Centres of Excellence in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford, and plans to support four more in centres in Dublin and Galway.
In Cork, he explains, Teresa has been working for several years supporting the collection of the tissue and blood samples from patients that allow an integrated all-Ireland approach to doing research.
BCI's goal, he explains, is to use the research to transform breast cancer from often being a fatal disease with 650 deaths annually to a chronic illness that has better long-term outcomes.
"Being the nominated charity for the 'FIT' run in Cork is fantastic as it allows us to continue to support and value the work Teresa has been doing for several years in Cork University Hospital.
"We're determined to ensure that women of all ages, young and old, become more breast aware as early detection leads to better outcomes.
"The research is crucial to save lives," Professor Hill says, adding that it's also important to say that over the last decade advances in drug treatment have helped improve the outcomes for breast cancer patients.
"We think that BCI helps enhance the co-operative integrated approach to research so that we can continue to speed up improvements in breast cancer care."
As well as supporting the provision of Breast Cancer Research Nurses, funds raised through BCI have been used to help recruit and retain cancer research scientists and clinicians, purchase cutting-edge laboratory research equipment and support a public awareness campaign to make women of all ages, breast aware.
* Attend routine breast screening if you're aged 50 and over
* Know what's normal for you
* Look and feel
* Know what changes to look for
* Report any changes without delay
* For more information visit www.breast cancerireland.com
'FIT Magazine' City Series – Cork
When: 21st July 2013
Where: Cork City
Route: Start and finish outside the home of Cork GAA at Pairc ui Chaoimh. Enter at www.fitmagazine.ie/events