Lesley Turner – breast cancer survivor and patient advocate

Lesley TurnerLesley provides an invaluable perspective on research grant applications for World Cancer Research Fund.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 48; I had taken advantage of an early screening programme at work which meant I was treated relatively quickly. I underwent a radical mastectomy, and although the cancer was caught early, the nature of the surgery and the subsequent endocrine therapy caused various problems, including lymphoedema, hot flushes, vaginal atrophy and fatigue.

I quickly came to understand the value of medical research and the importance of evidence-based treatment. In late 2009, I joined Independent Cancer Patients’ Voice (ICPV), a cancer patient advocacy group set up to bring patients’ viewpoints to medical research in the UK.

I also became involved with the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Consumer Forum, a powerful consumer group in the field of cancer research. I sit as a patient representative alongside scientific and medical experts on a number of clinical studies groups where patients’ views are taken equally as seriously as those of the experts.

Reliable cancer prevention advice

In 2014, I was invited to sit on the National Institute for Health Research’s Cancer and Nutrition Collaboration project, which led to my introduction to World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF). A team at the Southampton Biomedical Research Centre is working with WCRF to establish a coordinated framework for future research into cancer and nutrition.

For me, the appeal of WCRF is the way it highlights the latest research into the link between cancer and diet, nutrition and physical activity. One in two of us in the UK will become a cancer patient, so the prevention of cancer is one of the most important health challenges of our time.

WCRF champions innovative research into the link between cancer and diet, nutrition and physical activity. We all need to understand that link so that we can make simple changes to our lifestyles to reduce our own cancer risk.

In 2018, I spoke at the launch event of WCRF’s global report into cancer prevention, Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective. I explained how it’s full of reliable cancer prevention advice and I was glad I could comment on it from a patient perspective.

People need to know what evidence is out there to help them make better choices. Cancer patients often change their lifestyles after a diagnosis but can struggle to find reliable, trustworthy evidence from their clinicians.

Making patient voices heard

I have subsequently also been asked to review a number of grant applications as part of the WCRF Grant Programme Panel, specifically those that focus on research regarding cancer survivors.

My role on the panel is to comment on and assess research proposals from the patients’ point of view, as the panel is largely made up of eminent scientists and clinicians.

I ensure that patients’ voices are heard and raise awareness of the practical aspects and outcomes of research and how it can affect patients.

I’m delighted that WCRF is recognising the value of patient and public involvement in determining what kind of research is approved for funding. It acknowledges that the opinions of those most directly affected, cancer patients, are of massive importance.

Patients’ views are taken equally as seriously as those of the experts

WCRF takes the patient viewpoint seriously and is a prime example of the strong spirit of collaboration within the cancer research community.

By working alongside organisations like NCRI and ICPV, WCRF is developing mutually beneficial relationships which, if we all continue to work together, can only improve the outcomes for future cancer patients.