Managing Cancer Patients: Complete Guide for Nurses with Results

Nurse managing cancer
Managing cancer patients

Caregivers are at the frontline of global efforts to managing cancer. This article might seem like a soap note because it kind of looks like one. However, it’s a guide for general oncological management for all types of cancer. The article will look at it in four phases: diagnosis, treatment, detection, and prevention.

Managing cancer: Diagnosis

You are a nurse in your random rounds at your place of work. Hellen walks in with reports of a sudden change in the size of her breast, and she cannot really confirm whether it has a lump or not. 

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Foremost, there are more than 100 types of cancer documented. However, the most prevalent ones are lung, prostate, and colorectal among men; and lung, breast, and colorectal among women. When a patient comes in with speculations of a disease likened to cancer, a vigorous diagnostic process ensues. The mostly used diagnostic models for cancer among caregivers are laboratory tests, endoscopic examinations, diagnostic imaging, genetics tests, and tumor biopsies.

Types of cancer diagnoses

  • Laboratory tests can take the form of complete blood count tests, electrophoresis blood tests, tumor markers, and urinalysis.
  • Endoscopy is direct visual examination of body cavities, mostly used in imaging the upper GI (gastro-intestinal) tract. Common types of endoscopies are colonoscopy, bronchoscopy (lungs), and laparoscopy for the pelvis.
  • Diagnostic imaging includes X-rays, Computed Tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Ultrasound, and Fluoroscopy.
  • Genetic testing reveals cellular mutation genes that pose great risk, or are already mutating in carcinogenesis. 
  • Tumor biopsies involve the collection of small quantities of fresh samples of tumors speculated to contain cancer cells. 

Oncological diagnosis has mental and physiological effects on the patients, something that the care-giver is tasked with managing. Imaging and Endoscopies may have a fatigue effect, along with feelings of nausea and headaches. Proper medicinal therapy would do in this case. It is also worth noting that caregivers should also manage their safety when conducting diagnostic exercises. Imaging requires protective gear, and surgery should be done with enough safety.

Cancer Treatment Management

In as much we call it treatment, cancer therapy can have many objectives, not just to permanently cure the disease:

  • Curative treatment seeks to permanently cure the disease, allowing the patient to live a normal life-span.
  • Primary treatment is aimed to completely get rid of the cancerous cells from the body. The most common method of primary treatment is surgery, whereby the affected part of the body.
  • Adjuvant treatment takes after primary treatment. It’s a clean-up therapy aimed to remotely kill malignant cells that remain after primary treatment to prevent any chances that the cancer will recur. Some common methods for adjuvant treatment are chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and any other cancer treatment.
  • Palliative treatment seeks to relieve the impacts of cancer treatment, or relieve the symptoms of the disease itself. Treatment therapies may result in fatigue, fever, and shortness of breath. Palliative treatment relieves these side effects, as well as do away with cancer symptoms like pain and bleeding.
Nurse managing a cancer patient in a wheelchair

Types of Cancer Treatment

  1. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill mutant cells attributed to cancer. Chemotherapy also seeks to:

  • Make tumors smaller before primary treatment.
  • In adjuvant therapy to kill cancer cells that remain after primary treatment.
  • Speed down mutation and spreading of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Medication used in chemotherapy has strong side-effects. The drugs kill fast-growing cells, but they also slow down the growth of other healthy cells like hair cells, leading to reduced hair growth. Caregivers should therefore prepare the patient for these and other side-effects, through psychological pre-briefing, and appropriate medication.

  1. Radiation Therapy

High quantities of radio-active rays are used to kill cancer cells in this form of treatment. All forms of radiotherapy are local treatment, whereby therapy is focused to only the affected part of the body. In internal therapy, the source of radiation, could be seed or capsule, is placed near the tumoxr to act on it. In contrast, external radiation is the use of beams from outside the body. 

One of the side effects of radiotherapy is fatigue, as the body consumes a lot of energy in the healing process. The patient may not be able to show up for work, or execute simple tasks after undergoing radiation therapy for some time. Radiotherapy also causes nausea, and the patient’s appetite levels may drop. Nurses should provide medication for all these side-effects.

  1. Surgery

In this type of treatment, surgeons make incisions on the body to remove cancerous tumors. Amputation as a remedy for cancer also entails the use of surgery, with administration of anesthesia. Technology has allowed the administration of anesthesia locally; numbness on a specific part of the body which is being operated on.

Surgery may inflict some pain even after the anaesthesia, pain that is easily manageable through the cooperation between the nurse and patient. Additionally, incisive surgery may result in wounds that should be managed or otherwise risk infection.

  1. Stem-Cell Transplant

Although used as palliative treatment, stem-cell transplant is a major recovery phase after primary treatment. In this case, healthy blood-stem cells from donors or the patient are transfused into the patient’s bone marrow to replace the cells destroyed by primary treatment methods like radiotherapy. 

Allogeneic transplant, which is the transfusion of donor-stem cells, may result in graft-host disease. White blood cells in the host body may detect and act against introduced cells as foreign cells. The disease is however manageable by steroids or other immune-suppressing mechanisms.

Managing Cancer: Detection and Prevention

Nurses have a role to play in preventing cancer cases, and helping to detect the disease early. Cancer screening is the checking of cancer in people who do not have symptoms for the disease. 

Chemical carcinogens cause cancer, and to prevent it, the public should be advised of the following risk-factors:

  • Smoking
  • Excess body weight
  • Ultraviolet rays
  • Cancer-related infections, and
  • Physical inactivity.

Cancer screening should come with expert advice on how to prevent the disease. Such ways include avoiding smoking and binge-drinking, eating a balanced diet complete with fiber and folic acid, keeping off intense sunlight, and undertaking physical exercise.

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