Oncology Nurse

Oncology nurses practice in a specialist area of medicine that focuses on the treatment of patients with cancer.

Oncology deals with a branch of science and health care that deals with tumors and cancers. The term “onco” means bulk, mass, or tumor while “logy” means to study.

Every cell in our body has a system that controls their growth, maturity, reproduction and eventual death. Cancer starts when abnormal cells in the body start to grow out of control and some of the earliest evidence of cancer has been found in fossilized bone tumors on mummies in ancient Egypt.

Oncology has been a growing field in nursing since the 1970s when treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy were developed to help treat cancer. Prior to that cancer was mainly treated through surgery and the chances of patients surviving were low.

Oncology Nurses Became More Specialized In The 1970s

In 1971, the National Cancer Act was passed and became the driving force to help reduce the incidence, morbidity and mortality rates of cancer. Cancer survival rates became to improve dramatically and oncology nursing developed into a specialized role.

Today, millions of people are living with cancer or have had cancer. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States and about 50% of all men and 30% of all women in America will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.

In the next two decades, it is projected that new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States will increase by 45% from 1.6 million in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2030. As many as 70% of these cancers will be found among an increasingly obese population, the elderly and minority groups.

Breast cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer and pancreatic cancer will be the most prevalent diseases and all have extremely high mortality rates.

Oncology Nurses Work In Hospitals, Hospices And Aged Care Homes

Oncology nurses assist patients with or recovering from cancer in public and private hospital cancer wards, community cancer centers, hospices, aged care homes and in the private homes of patients receiving home care.

Oncology nurses are responsible for making sure that any patient at risk of developing cancer receives the proper health care education and counseling. Cancer prevention, screening and early detection is vitally important in helping to prevent the disease.

Advanced practice oncology nursing involves being a direct caregiver, coordinator, consultant, educator, researcher and administrator. Oncology nurses also work in the pharmaceutical industry and in occupation health settings. Because the field of cancer treatment is so large, oncology nursing covers everything from prevention and acute care through to cancer rehabilitation and palliative care.

This includes breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, endometrial cancer which attacks the lining of a woman’s womb, cancer of the esophagus, head and neck cancer and many other areas of oncology.

The role of oncology nurses is more essential than ever as they help treat cancer patients through chemotherapy, radiation, surgical oncology, GYN oncology, bone marrow transplants, cancer genetic counseling and palliative care.

Oncology nurses have a range of diagnostic tools to help them in their treatment of cancer. Common methods include blood tests for biological or tumor markers as the rise of these markers in blood may be indicative of the cancer. Oncology nurses can be tasked with performing a biopsy on a patient which involves the removal of bits of the tumor tissue and examining it under the microscope.

Other diagnostic tools at the disposal of oncology nurses include an endoscopy for the gastrointestinal tract, imaging studies like X-rays, CT scanning, MRI scanning, ultrasound and other radiological techniques. High-tech diagnostic technology involves scintigraphy, single photon emission computed tomography, positron emission tomography and nuclear medicine techniques.

Based on the grade and stage of the cancer, oncology nurses then help to plan the most effective therapy for each of their patients. This can be surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other forms of treatment. To become a certified oncology nurse (OCN), you must be a licensed registered nurse (RN) with extensive theoretical knowledge and clinical experience working with cancer patients.

The Oncology Nursing Certification Corporation (ONCC) has 6 different levels of certification in oncology nursing. This includes a basic level Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN), Certified Pediatric Oncology Nurse (CPON) and Certified Breast Care Nurse (CBCN).

To become an Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse (AOCN), Advanced Oncology Certified Clinical Nurse Specialist (AOCNS) or Advanced Oncology Certified Nurse Practitioner (AOCNP), you need a Master’s Degree in Nursing and at least 500 hours of supervised oncology nursing clinical practice. Cancer nurses must also complete an accredited nurse practitioner program to become an AOCNP.

Many oncology nurses also undertake the Oncology Nursing Society’s (ONS) Cancer Chemotherapy Program to ensure consistency when they provide chemotherapy to cancer patients. The ONS is a professional body with over 35,000 registered oncology nurses and other healthcare providers and is dedicated to providing world-class cancer patient care, education, research, and administration in oncology nursing.

Oncology nurses start off being paid around $35,000 pa. With more clinical cancer experience and further qualifications, advanced practice oncology nurses can earn between $60,000 and $125,000 a year.