7 Essentials When Caring for Breast Cancer Patients

Caring for Breast Cancer Patients

By Joan Fox Rose, MA, RN, contributor

Fall is the season of cooler weather, colorful leaves and football games; it’s also a time to acknowledge Breast Cancer Awareness Month throughout October. Travel nurses caring for breast cancer patients should be aware of present and future trends, new treatment modalities and the essentials of care for breast cancer patients and their families.

Breast cancer statistics

The American Cancer Society estimates that:

•    1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime
•    More than 245,000 U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016
•    More than 40,000 U.S. women will die from breast cancer this year
•    Approximately 2,000 U.S. men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year
•    2.8 million breast cancer survivors are currently living in the U.S.

RELATED: Breast Cancer Awareness: Coming to a City Near You

New breast cancer treatments

According to researchers at the National Institutes of Health, several new treatments for breast cancer have had positive results, based on clinical trials and early treatment roll outs.  Some of the newest treatments showing promise include: 

•    Targeted therapy, which aims to destroy specific cancer cells rather then divide both normal and cancerous cells;
•    Hormone therapy, which works to either block the body’s ability to produce hormones, like estrogen, or interfere with hormones that speed the growth of cancer cells;
•    Immunotherapy, a type of biological therapy that helps the body fight cancer through living organisms within the body, such as T Cells, a subtype of white blood cells located within the immune system; and,
•    Gene therapy, a process that introduces copies of normal functioning genes to alter cell mutations involved in the formation of cancer cells.  

Seven essentials for treating breast cancer patients

No matter where your travel nursing jobs take you, or what nursing specialty you practice, you are likely to care for breast cancer patients at some point. When you do, here are some key points to help you provide the most appropriate and compassionate care:

1. Acknowledge the individual. According to Janell Clark, ANP-BC, MSN, MBA, a nurse practitioner at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, it’s important to remember each breast cancer patient is an individual with unique needs. “Patients have questions about their diagnosis and want to know if their nurses have had experience caring for patients like them,” she said. “All questions are answered with honesty, and based on patient reactions we’re able to gain an unbiased perspective about their fears and anxieties.” 

2. Help patients navigate the system. Nurses can act as patient navigators for breast cancer patients, helping them deal with physician referrals, appointments, tests and treatments. “Our main strategy is a patient navigation system designed to monitor and assist patients as they move along from diagnosis to survivorship,” said Clark. “To meet this goal, we’ve established a process known as Our Mother Standard of Care to remind us to treat each patient as if we are treating our mother.” Travel nurses can provide individualized, honest and compassionate care throughout the patient care referral system. 

3. Listen, be patient, and teach accordingly. When conversing with physicians, patients only hear about 10 percent of what is being said, Clark pointed out. While engaged in teaching, nurses need to be patient, present information at a level each patient can comprehend, limit the use of medical terminology and give patients as much time as they need to process information, she advised. At their treatment center, nurses are available by phone any day or time patients want to talk. “Being there for them helps patients to process information about their diagnosis and treatments, to gain needed insights, to make informed and empowered decisions,” she said.

4. Treat men with breast cancer differently. During conversations with men, keep in mind that the stigma of breast cancer is different for them than it is for women, Clark advised. Consider their feelings and use similar teaching techniques used when teaching women.

5. Help patients find a support group. Support groups give patients opportunities to be encouraged by others with similar diagnoses throughout their journey through cancer. Philadelphia’s Eastern Regional Medical Center has an ongoing support group called Cancer Fighters, for example. Even if you are a travel nurse who is new to the community, your hospital or treatment center will likely have contacts and resources that you can access on behalf of your patients. 

6. Provide educational materials. Breast cancer patients now have a wealth of educational materials to help learn about their diagnosis and what lies ahead. Travel nurses can connect them with in-house resources at their assignment facilities, as well as community resources and educational materials from The American Cancer Society and other groups like the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

7. Celebrate victories. Celebrating victory over cancer is an important tradition, and even small victories are worthy of noting. As patients complete treatments, see improved test results, or start getting their strength back, nurses can acknowledge that they are one step closer to their goal and have something worth celebrating. The long-term wins are especially gratifying, of course, and many hospitals and treatment centers have events to celebrate survivors and their families. 


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