Edinburgh Cancer Centre pioneers communication training for Therapeutic Radiographers

The skills training package is intended to support these radiographers in managing their patients’ fears of cancer recurrence

Published: 29 April 2024 Role Development

The Edinburgh Cancer Centre has implemented a communication skills training package intended to support Therapeutic Radiographers to manage patient worries during treatment.

The model will also be used to support empathic conversations with staff around wellbeing and peer support, to enhance working relationships and staff morale.

A study into supporting patients with their fears and anxieties surrounding cancer treatment, conducted first in 2016 and then expanded in 2018 at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre (ECC), developed a package of communication skills, designed to help radiographers communicate empathically with patients.

The study, titled 'Using co-design with breast cancer patients and radiographers to develop "KEW" communication skills training,' was carried out by researchers from Scotland and London, including Rachel Harris from the SoR. 

Important pointers for reassuring communication were identified, including: being treated like a person, knowing what to expect, and space to ask questions.

The studies’ findings were collated and turned into the “KEW” communication guidelines for radiographers: Know (Confidence; Expectations; Person), Encourage (Emotions; Space; Follow-up), Warmth (Start; Normalise; Ending).

The ECC’s first cohort of radiographers has completed the training in applying and training colleagues in the communication model, and new trainers are now working to deliver the core training to all radiographers in the Edinburgh Cancer Centre.

Fear of cancer recurrence

Around 393,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year, and around three million currently live with a cancer diagnosis.

However, just under half (48.5 per cent) experience symptoms of anxiety and depression for 18 months post-diagnosis, according to an NHS England Cancer Quality of Life survey.

Fear of cancer recurrence (FCR) is one of the most commonly-reported unmet needs reported by those affected by cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship. This fear is characterised by “persistent psychological distress” that cancer will return or progress.

Analysis of FCR studies found more than 59 per cent of cancer patients report a moderate level of FCR, and a further 19 per cent experience levels of FCR requiring specialist intervention. 

Empathic conversations

A study on FCR during cancer treatment called FORECAST, funded by Breast Cancer Now and piloted at the ECC in 2016, demonstrated FCR increased during radiotherapy treatment for a third of patients.

However, it also found empathic conversations with their review radiographers at the weekly review clinic helped patients manage these concerns.

A follow-up study in 2018 developed a communication skills training package for therapeutic radiographers to support empathic communication with patients and reduce development of FCR during radiotherapy.

Following this package’s success, the training has been expanded to support radiographers with generalised communication issues during cancer diagnosis and treatment. This has involved collaboration between the previous FORECAST co-investigator and a health psychologist.

The team hopes to expand the training in the future for other healthcare professionals and student radiographers.

(Image: Training Facilitators and Kew Trainers (l-r Dr Calum McHale (Health Psychologist), Edinburgh Cancer Centre senior therapy radiographers, Josie Cameron (Breast Advanced Radiographer))