Cancer care: Recognising the nursing contribution

Nurses play a central role in patients’ cancer care, and deserve better education and working conditions, writes Deirdre Clune.

Deirdre Clune | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Deirdre Clune

27 Apr 2018


Although significant advances have been made in the fight against cancer, it remains a key public health concern and a tremendous burden on EU societies. It is the second largest cause of death in the EU, with more than 3.7 million new cases and 1.9 million deaths each year. At some point in their lives, almost every European will be affected by cancer either by falling ill themselves or having a loved one that does.

During their experience of the disease, each of these individuals (depending on the country they are in) is managed by, or will come into contact with, a multi-professional team that includes nurses and/or specialised cancer nurses.

Cancer nurses are the largest group of health care providers and play a central role in the cancer care team.


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They work closely with patients and their families and their work strongly impacts patient outcomes.

On top of this, cancer nurses provide education and information; deliver, monitor and evaluate cancer treatment; they provide psychosocial support and symptom management throughout the entire cancer care pathway from prevention, early detection, treatment and rehab to palliative and end of life care.

Specialist cancer nursing provision has been associated with improved patient knowledge and self-management and marked improvement in patient symptoms. In all care settings, nurses have an important role in recognising early signs and symptoms and prompting early intervention and treatment.

Research has also demonstrated the benefit of nursing on patients and their families in coping with the impact of their diagnosis. Despite the obvious benefits to patients and positive cancer outcomes that training nurses to this level of specialisation can bring many member states still fail to recognise cancer nursing as a speciality.

On 18 May, European Cancer Nursing Day (ECND), thousands of cancer nurses across Europe will be calling for high-level recognition of the unique contribution of cancer nursing.

ECND is organised by the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS) and stems from the groundbreaking Recognising European Cancer Nursing (RECaN) project, which is researching the status of cancer nursing in Europe. It focuses on the importance of education and training to support specialist cancer nurses in improving treatment outcomes and the quality of life of cancer patients.

This year, ECND will also see the launch of a new, updated cancer nursing education framework, developed by EONS. This includes health promotion and lifestyle issues, and new cancer treatment options such as targeted therapies and immunotherapy.

While health workforce management and training is a member state competence, in our role as MEPs we can and should be supporting cancer nurses all over Europe in their quest to be offered appropriate education, working conditions and recognition for their important work. This in turn would have a hugely positive impact on people affected by cancer in all countries.

As an active and committed member of MEPs Against Cancer (MAC), I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate my support for health professions in general and cancer nurses in particular as providers of excellent healthcare across Europe.

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