Position Statement -

Value of Specialised Cancer Nursing

21 November 2016 


The demand placed on health systems in Europe will continue to rise as the population ages and more people are diagnosed with long-term or life-limiting conditions. Cancer is a major disease burden that contributes to an upward pressure on all relevant health systems. 


Whereas mobility of medical professionals may enhance health systems’ ability to respond to new challenges, it may also present a complicating factor in a situation when heterogeneous requirements and qualifications exist across countries. 


In order to ensure high quality care to patients, the modern oncology workforce must cultivate flexibility and innovation.  


Multi-disciplinary team working - where each discipline has an instrumental but complementary role - is a principal driver of optimal patient outcomes in cancer. Moreover, specialisation is increasingly called for to ensure the best possible expertise underpinning cancer care delivery. 


Nurses make a central contribution to all cancer patients and should be integral to effective multidisciplinary team working. Despite its important added value in terms of patient outcomes, however, specialised cancer nursing lacks uniform regulation, or recognition, across Europe. 


One consequence is that different definitions of cancer nurse are currently used, based on a variety of factors or their combination including the nurses’ role (or the scope of the role), purpose, location of care delivery, type or severity of cancer, and educational preparation. Patient representatives highlighted the need for clarity when defining a cancer nurse, stating that “there are many names for them, and the different academic degrees are very confusing for patients”. 


The following definition can be formulated based on available literature (ESNO 2015, CANO 2016): 


  • Specialist cancer nurse: On an international level, specialist cancer nurses are expected to be educated to a degree level (or higher), have a formal training in cancer, and to care for cancer patients as a specialised population, and this across different cancer types and the entire cancer care continuum. 

In addition, advanced cancer nurses can be distinguished as those educated at a post-graduate level and considered as expert in, at least, one aspect of cancer care.

Due to the variability in the education type and tasks performed by nurses working with cancer patients across countries, the term ‘specialised or specialist cancer nurse’ in this paper encompasses the variety of titles that may be used - with the understanding that there is a need to recognise the heterogeneous landscape across Europe.  Cancer nursing can thus be understood as a baseline definition that includes the more specific roles and responsibilities that exist therein. 


The project REcognising Cancer Nursing in Europe (RECaN) - led by the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS) and supported by ECCO – The European CanCer Organisation, aims to consolidate evidence to clarify and effectively position the contribution of specialised cancer nursing as an essential supportive function during the cancer journey for the benefit of all patients, as well as European health systems.  

We Are Supporting Cancer Nursing Day Because...

Daniel Kelly

EONS President, UK

"Cancer Nursing needs to be better recognized! Our work has great impact on patient outcome and it is time to recognize that."

Lena Sharp

EONS President-Elect, Sweden

"Specialist care should be delivered by specialists! Cancer care is very complex and the nurses that deliver, monitor, evaluate and follow-up the cancer treatments need specific skills."

Erik van Muilekom

EONS Past-President, The Netherlands

"To be a cancer nurse is the best job in the world. You get to work closely with and effect people in very difficult situations. Every day at work you make a difference."

Maria Cristina Pires de Lacerda

EONS Treasurer, Portugal

"It is time to highlight what EU and WHO already have concluded in different reports; Nursing is under recognised and a general recognition of cancer Nursing in Europe would improve the quality of cancer care in all countries."

Aoife McNamara

Information Development Manager, Irish Cancer Society

"Cancer has a significant impact on those affected by it. The complexities of cancer symptoms, treatments, side effects and psychosocial issues require the input of skilled multidisciplinary teams. The cancer nurse is a vital member of this team, acting as a key point of contact and advocate, providing advanced communications skills, psychosocial support and conceptualising the meaning of cancer for the patient and their loved ones. Cancer nurses are the glue that holds the patients’ care together."

Paul Trevatt

EONS Executive Board member, UK

"Cancer nursing allows you to consider the patient in a holistic manner, to treat not just the disease, but the person behind it."

Patrick Crombez

EONS Executive Board member, Belgium

"It is vital that we recognise cancer nursing in Europe, all cancer patients deserve the best possible medical care and treatment, regardless of what country they are from. Cancer nursing is an integral part of that."

Birgitte Grube

EONS Executive Board member, Belgium

"It is vital that we recognise cancer nursing in Europe, all cancer patients deserve the best possible medical care and treatment, regardless of what country they are from. Cancer nursing is an integral part of that."

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