The Role of the Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist – Caroline Tweedie



National Cancer CNS Day is now in its second year and takes place on 26th April 2023. Here Caroline talks us through what this role entails.

Thank you for sharing this with us Caroline and a massive thank you to you and the rest of the Cancer CNS workforce for all you do for cancer patients and their families across our region.

Introducing Caroline

I’m Caroline Tweedie and I have worked as a Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist in the breast unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead since 2016. My role requires expertise in the clinical field of breast cancer, as research is constantly evolving new practices so we never stop learning.

What does the role of a CNS look like?

We support patients, their carers and relatives on a daily basis with a new diagnosis of breast cancer, talking them through their treatments and recovery. We annually support over 700 women in the region with a new diagnosis of breast cancer.

This requires advanced communication skills to deal with emotionally difficult and challenging situations. Our role involves explaining complex information and treatment options in understandable terms. It is widely acknowledged that the CNS plays a crucial role in the quality of patient care.

We act as a role model for nursing practice across the speciality and Trust, providing clinical nursing advice and education. We act as a source of advice and knowledge for healthcare professionals within breast services and oncology and work within the MDT in the provision of optimal care throughout the patient pathway.

What we offer

We currently have 13 breast care nurses within the team dedicated to supporting patients from their breast screening/triple assessment appointment, diagnosis, surgery, adjuvant therapies (therapy applied after initial cancer treatment), oncology and beyond.

  • Nurse-led clinics (face to face, virtual and telephone)
  • Personalised information about treatment options
  • Education events and self-management programmes
  • Holistic needs assessments and individualised care plans
  • Signposting to other agencies
  • Reconstruction counselling, wound support and Nipple tattooing
  • Referrals to other specialist teams
  • Specialist wound intervention
  • Lymphoedema support
  • Oncology and Secondary Breast Cancer support
  • Telephone advice and support

Innovation and Achievements

The team are currently supporting the Northern Cancer Alliance with a new pilot mastalgia (breast pain) clinic. Led by our Nurse consultant Caroline Buchanan and CNS Lynn Pounder the Clinic will help better manage what is a quite common condition which often causes unnecessary anxiety for patients.

A referral to the Breast Team will naturally raise concern. The reality is that these referrals, where breast pain is the main symptom, rarely lead to diagnosis of cancer. This new clinic will reduce the number of referrals for suspected cancer and therefore reduce the number of patients experiencing unnecessary worry and concern.

Another of our achievements has been the development of the digital portfolio of support for cancer patients. It was new, innovative and helped push and facilitate camaraderie within the team during the pandemic. Using our own clinical cancer experts at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust has helped to produce a readily accessible virtual portfolio of personalised information to support our patients.

The digital pathway received recognition at the Bright Ideas Health Awards and won this year’s Innovation Champion Award. At the recent British Journal of Nursing Awards I was delighted to be awarded silver in the Oncology Nurse of the Year category.

We have numerous testimonials to support the work of the Breast CNS.