Introduction: Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. Nutrition may affect occurrence, recurrence and survival rates and many cancer patients and survivors seek individualized nutrition advice. Appropriately skilled nutritional therapy (NT) practitioners may be well-placed to safely provide this advice, but little is known of their perspectives on working with people affected by cancer. This mixed-methods study seeks to explore their views on training, barriers to practice, use of evidence, and other resources, to support the development of safe evidence-based practice. Preliminary data on barriers to practice are reported here.
Methods: Two cohorts of NT practitioners were recruited from all UK registered NT practitioners, by an on-line anonymous survey. 84 cancer practitioners (CP) and 165 non-cancer practitioners (NCP) were recruited. Mixed quantitative and qualitative data was collected by the survey. Content analysis was used to analyze qualitative data on the use of evidence, barriers to practice and perceived needs for working with clients with cancer, for further exploration using interviews and focus groups.
Preliminary results: For the NCP cohort, exploring themes of perceived barriers to working with people affected by cancer suggested that perceived complexity, risk and need for caution in this area of practice were important barriers. Insufficient specialist knowledge and skills also emerged as barriers. Some NCPs perceived opposition from medical practitioners and other mainstream healthcare professions as an obstacle to starting cancer practice. To overcome these barriers, specialist training emerged as most important. For the CP cohort, in exploring the skills they considered enabled them to undertake cancer work, specialist clinical and technical knowledge emerged strongly. Only 10% CP participants did not want more work with people affected by cancer. 10% CPs reported some NHS referrals, whereas most received clients by self-referral or from other practitioners. When considering barriers that impede their cancer practice, the dominant categories for CPs were hostility or opposition by mainstream oncology professionals, and lack of dialogue and engagement with them. To overcome these barriers, CPs desired engagement with oncology professionals and recognized specialist cancer NT training. For both NCPs and CPs, evidence resources, practice guidelines and practitioner support networks also emerged as potential enablers to cancer practice.
Conclusions: This is the first detailed exploration of NT practitioners’ perceived barriers to working with people affected by cancer. Acquiring specialist skills and knowledge appears important to enable NCPs to start cancer work, and for CPs with these skills, the perceived barriers appear foremost in the relationship with mainstream cancer professionals. Further exploration of these themes, and other NT practitioner perspectives on working with people affected by cancer, is underway. This work will inform and support the development of professional practice, training and other resources.