Southampton General Hospital has appointed the UK’s first specialist nurse to give treatment and advice to those suffering from mesothelioma, reports the Southern Daily Echo. Mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, is a rare but dangeous form of cancer that typically develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen after exposure to asbestos, so sufferers often have a background as an industrial worker or veteran.
Approximately 2,600 people in the UK and 3,200 people in the US are diagnosed with mesothelioma per year, with the majority of cases occurring in men and those aged 60-80. The symptoms usually appear gradually, and don’t begin for several decades after asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a building material comprised of microscopic fibres that can enter and lodge in the lungs, causing damage to them over time. The risks associated with asbestos have led to a decrease in its use as a building material, but it is still present in some older houses, and the delayed presentation of symptoms mean that new cases continue to be diagnosed.
The newly appointed nurse, Helen Wilkes, will support patients from Southampton, Portsmouth, central and southern England, the Falklands, and the Channel Islands over the course of treatment, from pre-diagnosis to outcome. In addition to her clinical role, she will also work with local support groups to raise awareness of the disease, advise on clinical trial opportunities, and help with compensation and benefits claims for armed forces personnel, veterans, and industrial workers who developed mesothelioma. The industrial nature of asbestos cancer and the different entitlements for army personnel and veterans mean that these claims are often complicated. The additional support offered by Helen will therefore play an important role in helping people affected by the disease.
Helen has worked for over ten years with lung cancer and mesothelioma patients, including five years as a lung cancer specialist. Before that she was a chemotherapy nurse at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Her new position is funded by the national cancer charity Mesothelioma UK using grants from the Treasury, and brings the number of nurses employed by the charity up to 18, and more are planned.
Southampton Hospital was chosen as Helen’s location because incidence of the disease is particularly high in this region as a result of the workforce’s links to dockyards, a power station, and a navy base. The creation of the specialist nurse role will support local campaigns to improve cancer treatments. One recent initiative was led by the University of Southampton. The University managed to successfully raise money to fund the UK’s first dedicated cancer immunology centre, which is planned to open this year.