Nurses have the opportunity to make valuable contributions to the growing community of cancer patients who are actively in treatment and those who have survived it. It’s estimated that soon cancer will be the leading cause of death in the world. However, the majority of patients live at least 5 years beyond diagnosis. As a result, nurses from multiple specialties will care for an increasing number of cancer survivors—currently estimated at about 12 million in the United States alone. In response to the growing needs of the oncology patient population, the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) has launched initiatives to help educate and prepare nurses for the evolving needs of patients and families.

The ONS Survivorship Initiative

Long after their active cancer treatment ends, patients may continue to develop symptoms or have some symptoms persist. They often return to a non-specialty setting for care and have unique needs that may not always be fulfilled. In an effort to address this problem, the ONS launched a new survivorship initiative to identify gaps in information regarding medical care for cancer survivors and to provide educational resources on survivorship issues. Survivorship issues differ across the age continuum; needs vary for pediatric, young adult, middle-aged, and elderly survivors of the disease. One goal of the ONS initiative is to raise awareness that survivorship care is every nurse’s responsibility—basic registered nurses or advanced practice nurses can make influential contributions as they care for this growing population. The initiative will focus on several areas, including:

• Identifying areas for improvement in nursing.
• Providing education to ONS members.
• Influencing nursing school curriculum.
• Providing resources to help reach the larger nursing community.

The Gero-Oncology Advocacy Initiative

Most cancers occur in people in the later decades of their life. As the baby boomer population ages, oncology nurses who are not adept in some aspects of geriatric medicine will be faced with an increasing elderly population of cancer patients with unique needs. To address this issue, the ONS launched a gero-oncology advocacy initiative to highlight the special needs of older patient populations to assist oncology nurses and other providers.

Age-related illness and considerations may occur at the same time a cancer diagnosis is made, and nurses can benefit from an increased awareness of these special needs. For example, older patients are more susceptible to falls, memory loss, and confusion. Additionally, patients’ caregivers may be elderly spouses or loved ones. Before administering oral chemotherapy, nurses should consider whether or not patients have any memory deficit problems. If so, they need to develop strategies that patients can use to remember to take their medicines or determine if a home health agency should be considered.

Geriatrics is a part of everyone’s practice, including oncology nurses. The ONS will continue to develop projects in the future that address this important issue. Strategies to help oncology nurses and others who care for older cancer patients will only enhance disease-related outcomes in the future.

References

Reiner A, Lacasse C. Symptom correlates in the gero-oncology population. Semin Oncol Nurs. 2006;22:20-30.

Hewitt ME, Bamundo A, Day R, Harvey C. Perspectives on post-treatment cancer care: qualitative research with survivors, nurses, and physicians. J Clin Oncol. 2007;25:2270-2273.

Grant M, Economou D, Ferrell B, Bhatia S. Preparing professional staff to care for cancer survivors. J Cancer Surviv. 2007;1:98-106.

Lynch MP, Marcone D, Kagan SH. Developing a multidisciplinary geriatric oncology program in a community cancer center. Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2007;11:929-933.

Ford S. Nurses struggle to care for cancer survivors. Nurs Times. 2009;105:1