Northern Ireland

Teenage cancer patients to get new service

Cancer service launch
Image caption The new service was launched in Ballymena

A new service for teenagers and young adults living with cancer is being rolled out across Northern Ireland.

Every year about 76 people aged between 14-25 are diagnosed with cancer.

Figures from the NI Cancer Registry reveal there is a higher diagnosis rate among young people in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK.

Five charities have come together to provide a new service that includes five new nursing posts, one in each health trust.

There are also social workers and community workers to guide young people at home, school and work.

The service aims to ensure young people have equal clinical and psychological support for their medical and social needs no matter where they live.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption NI has higher cancer diagnosis rates among young people

Figures also reveal that the amount of miles that local families, seeking support, clock up is the second highest compared to their counterparts elsewhere.

Up until now, the service has been confined to the Belfast Cancer Centre and The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.

Average 100 mile round trip

Bridging that gap means the service will now be available in four hospitals including Belfast, Craigavon, Altnagelvin, Ulster and Antrim Area.

That means fewer families will have to make the average 100 mile round trip to get treatment in Belfast.

Image caption Leona McManus had to travel from Limavady to Belfast for treatment

Leona McManus, 22, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year.

"Travelling while undergoing treatment is hard. You are tired, sick, often in pain. I had to travel from Limavady to Belfast.

"This new service means I can go to Altnagelvin - young people will also have a nurse, even a community worker. Every little helps when living with cancer."

'It was a lonely time'

James Doggart was 18 when he was diagnosed with bowel cancer. The cancer spread to other organs, but 18 months in remission he is now looking forward to celebrating his 21st birthday on Friday.

"When first diagnosed I was told I would probably die. It was a lonely time. I was being treated alongside older men," he said.

"There wasn't the support for a teenager. I had to leave university, my friends were all moving on - I just wanted to speak to someone at my own level. This service will now provide that. It's good."

Image caption James Doggart is now in remission

Darren McKinley is the Teenage and Young Adults Project Manager with the Northern Ireland Cancer Network.

"This means teenagers and young adults with cancer can now access the best possible outcomes and have access to age-appropriate services targeting their needs, their language, their lives," he said.

'Like a bolt out of the blue'

Dr Anthony McCarthy, a consultant paediatric oncologist at the Royal Belfast Hospital said the new regional service would provide the specialism that young people require when living with cancer.

"When cancer comes it's like a bolt out of the blue. Young people aren't expecting a cancer diagnosis. Their treatment does need to be different.

"It is a distinct specialism in the treatment of cancer. The aim of the regional service is to reduce mortality rates and to provide support for patients and their families."

Dr McCarthy said as more people are surviving, the service will need to grow, and that means they will need the financial support from the Department of Health.