Jane Stewart from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre presented new research today showing that there are significant gaps in the primary care sector when it comes to cancer nutrition, which could be putting patient health at risk.
The initial data from the survey of 152 dietitians, 22 GPs and 10 general practice nurses (GPNs) in Victoria, was presented at the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting in Perth.
The research found that the majority of GPs/GPNs and dietitians working in primary care/community settings (78 percent and 63 percent respectively) believe there are patients with cancer malnutrition going unrecognised in their service.
Ms Stewart said that this is concerning given the negative outcomes linked to malnutrition.
“Malnutrition in people with cancer not only leads to poor clinical outcomes such as reduced treatment tolerance, more frequent hospital admissions and increased mortality, but also results in increased use of healthcare resources.”
She added that the proportion of primary care services that don’t screen their patients for risk of malnutrition was also alarming.
“Only 35% of GPs and GPNs very often or always weigh their patients with cancer, even though most recognise screening for malnutrition is important. Regularly weighing patients is one of the simplest and most effective ways to detect malnutrition early.
“Part of the problem is the poor transition of care from acute services into the primary care and community sector. The Victorian Cancer Malnutrition Collaborative program has done a lot of work to improve the identification and management of cancer nutrition in the acute setting, but this hasn’t translated across to primary care. For instance, we found that one third of acute oncology dietitians rarely or never refer their cancer patients to dietitians in the community sector.
“The majority of GP/GPN respondents, 94 percent, indicated that they would see benefit in having access to a malnutrition screening tool. The next step, alongside the development of targeted cancer malnutrition resources for primary care clinicians is to work with relevant organisations to embed malnutrition screening processes into general practice. In the meantime, I would encourage every GP and GPN to keep malnutrition top of mind and regularly weigh their cancer patients.”