What does a Cancer Nurse do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cancer nurse is part of the care team for a patient who has been diagnosed with cancer. Also known as oncology nurses, cancer nurses provide patient care, advocate for their patients, and act as key points of contact for other health professionals involved in the patient's cancer treatment. While people with general nursing licenses can and do work as cancer nurses, a career nurse will usually opt for additional certification in oncology from a professional organization. Having this certification provides a nurse with access to more job opportunities, as well as trade publications and other continuing education opportunities.

A cancer nurse in a hospital will assist with patient care and administer chemotherapy treatment that's been described by doctors.
A cancer nurse in a hospital will assist with patient care and administer chemotherapy treatment that's been described by doctors.

In a hospital environment, a cancer nurse can assist with patient care for hospitalized patients, administer and supervise chemotherapy treatments prescribed by a doctor, and perform a number of other tasks. A cancer diagnosis can be frightening and a cancer nurse may be assigned to work with a patient throughout treatment to provide continuity of care and a friendly face that a patient will become accustomed to.

In addition to providing physical care to patients, a cancer nurse can also offer psychological support to patients and their families. Patients sometimes find it helpful to talk with a nurse about planned procedures and treatments to learn more about what to expect, and nurses can also educate families of patients. Family interactions can include providing family members with tips for supporting their hospitalized family members and for providing care at home.

Other assistance can include care of surgical sites after surgeries, nutritional advice to patients who are struggling to eat, and assistance with applying to programs that help cancer patients access funds to pay for care. The cancer nurse also monitors a patient, provides ongoing feedback to the doctor, and advocates for the patient if medications are not working, a patient needs better pain management, or other problems are coming up during treatment.

Cancer nurses can also provide home care. Some patients with cancer prefer to be at home, and a home care nurse can administer medications and assist with other patient care tasks that family members cannot complete. The nurse may visit or live in, depending on the patient's condition. Cancer nurses are also involved in hospice care, where they keep cancer patients comfortable when they are nearing the end of their lives. A knowledge of oncology can be helpful for a nurse providing pain management and other interventions to cancer patients in hospice settings.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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