A day in the life of a 'Cancer Champion' content
“By getting more people to attend their screening appointments, we can detect cancer earlier, help more people survive cancer, and even prevent people getting cancer,” said Emma Bairstow, about her work championing cancer prevention in Barnsley.
Emma’s role is part of the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw Cancer Champions Programme, funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research, which aims to tackle health inequalities across the region by encouraging more people to attend their screening appointments.
We spoke to Emma about her role in the programme, and why it’s so important for people in Yorkshire.
“When I look back at my career now, I’ve always had a passion for working with people with cancer. From nursing them in hospital to helping with their rehabilitation after a period of illness, it is really rewarding to be able to make a difference in people’s treatment,” explains Emma.
After years of working with people with cancer, Emma now dedicates her time to cancer prevention and is helping people in Barnsley attend screening.
The three-year programme is delivered across GP Practices in Barnsley, Bassetlaw, Doncaster, Rotherham, and Sheffield and involves 35 Cancer Champions funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research.
Emma's team aims to increase the number of people taking up their screening invitations in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw by more than 70,000 by 2025
people in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw are not up to date with their cervical screening
The goal of the team is to increase the number of people taking up their screening invitations in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw by more than 70,000 by 2025.
There are currently three screening programmes rolled out nationwide in the UK. These are breast screening, bowel screening and cervical screening. Screening aims to diagnose cancer at an early stage before symptoms appear, when there are more treatment options available and the cancer is most likely to be treated successfully. It can also prevent cancer by identifying and treating cells that, if left, could turn into cancer in the future.
Emma said: “Programmes like those in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw are so important in raising awareness of screening and encouraging and supporting people who have been invited for screening. By getting more people to attend appointments, we can detect cancer earlier, help more people survive cancer, and even prevent people getting cancer.”
For Emma, early diagnosis and screening is of personal significance as her father passed away from bowel cancer.
She said: “He sadly passed away two weeks before I started my role . My passion and inspiration will always be my dad, whose bowel cancer was not detected early and cost him his life.”
About cervical screening
Recently, encouraging young women to take up their cervical screening appointment has been a key focus for Emma, and the team have been implementing new strategies to help see more women attending their screening.
Women, as well as trans-men and non-binary people with a cervix, are eligible for their first cervical screening appointment at the age of 25. Cervical screening takes a sample of cells from the cervix, which are then tested for human papillomavirus (HPV). Most people will have HPV in their lifetime, and it usually clears up on its own. However in some cases, it can cause cancer. HPV is the cause of almost all cases of cervical cancer.
If HPV is found, the sample taken during screening will be tested again for any changes to the cells of the cervix. If no changes are detected, then the person will be invited back for another screening appointment in a year, to check if the HPV has gone.
If cell changes are found, further tests will be done. Not all cell changes develop into cervical cancer, but it is important to treat them if needed.
In the South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw area, there are more than 100,000 people who are not up to date with their cervical screening. Of these, 72,000 are aged between 25 and 49 (1).
Emma said: “We focused on those between 25 and 29, as this age group includes women who have been invited for their first screening appointment. If we are able to encourage them to attend and they have a positive experience, they will hopefully continue to attend their appointments throughout their life.
One method that Emma and her fellow Cancer Champions have been using is a ‘reward and referral’ scheme. Women aged between 25 and 29 who attend their screening are offered a tote bag as a ‘reward’ for attending their appointment.The tote bag contains a postcard that can be shared with friends and family, encouraging them to attend their own appointments.
Emma explained: “The scheme has been based on behavioural science and will hopefully encourage women to talk openly about their cervical screening appointments and encourage others to attend, raising awareness of the importance of screening.”