What’s a Cancer Registrar?

Do you know what a cancer registrar does? Maybe a better question is, have you ever heard of a cancer registrar? If not, don’t be alarmed. This week is National Cancer Registrars Week and knowing that not many people know about the vital role cancer registrars play, I thought I’d do some digging.

cancerMary Greeley Medical Center, which has over 800 new diagnoses of cancer each year, currently employs one cancer registrar – Carol Anderson Soy. I sat down with her to understand the cancer registrars’ role a little bit better. It ends up that even though I work at the hospital, I was a little unclear on what they actually did.

The National Cancer Registrars Association website says that, “cancer registrars are data information specialists that capture a complete history, diagnosis, treatment and health status for every cancer patient in the U.S. The data provide essential information to researchers, health care providers and public health officials to better monitor and advance cancer treatments, conduct research and improve cancer prevention and screening programs.”

What?

In more simple terms, cancer registrars track cancer patients from the moment they’re diagnosed and log information about that patient for the rest of their life, obtaining literally a lifetime of data.

So for example, Jane learns she has breast cancer and her reports are sent to the hospital’s cancer registry. From that point forward, the cancer registrar follows Jane’s progress. They will fully document Jane’s treatment and send it to several national cancer registries. Their work doesn’t end there though—every year they will send a letter to Jane’s oncologist to update her disease in the registry database. These letters also serve as a reminder to both the physician and the patient, that it is time for a checkup.

So what purpose does all of this information serve? When this information is sent to national cancer registries, it helps all of us to understand cancer better. This data is what gives us the statistics that we see about cancer – the incidence rates, the survival rates, breakdown by gender, risk factors, etc.

But maybe more importantly, by knowing those things, it allows us to come up with better cancer prevention and screening programs so that we might decrease the incidence of cancer. It can also prove useful in rare cancer cases as someone can track down other patients with the same cancer using the database to see what treatment has or hasn’t worked.

People hear the word cancer a lot and they know the lingo that goes along with it: oncology, radiation, and chemo. We don’t hear a lot about the cancer registrars though and they also play a vital role in improving the quality of life for cancer patients.

For more information on cancer registrars, including information on how to become one, visit www.ncra-usa.org.