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Cancer is becoming increasingly prevalent in society, resulting in a focus on the disease in both healthcare and research. Having an understanding of the cancer pathophysiology, statistics, and reliable resources where information can be acquired is critical for nurses to pass on to patients. Nurses play an important role in the treatment of cancer patients through the nursing process which consists of various stages and utilizes educational background and knowledge regarding the disease.
Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Cancer diagnosing occurs when a symptom or a screening test results present factors which suggest a risk of cancer. A variety of methods exist to diagnose cancer depending on their type, stage, and other parameters. Physical exams are common to identify any lumps or abnormalities that may indicate the presence of cancer. Laboratory tests for blood and urine are almost always assigned to test for tumor markers and other abnormalities. For physical tumors, further examination may be required through imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans. In some cases, a biopsy is performed to collect a sample of cells, which is a fail-proof method of diagnosing cancer (National Cancer Institute, 2019). Cancer staging is determining further detail about cancer by the size of the tumor, its location, and whether it has spread, particularly to areas such as lymph nodes that indicate progression. This information allows to plan treatment and provide a prognosis. A staging classification system (TNM) exists which allows medical professionals to accurately identify the type and progression of cancer (American Cancer Society, 2015).
Cancer, depending on the type, can have profound impacts on the body, especially if it begins metastasizing to various organs. Three complications that have been identified include hormonal changes as the chemical balance and hormonal production is disrupted, leading to symptoms ranging from excessive thirst to mental disorientation. Furthermore, the body may have abnormal immune reactions to cancer, leading to the body attacking healthy cells and overall illness. Finally, neurological complications may occur due to nerve damage which brings about loss of function, headaches, or seizures. Since cancer treatment is often very aggressive and damaging to the body (particularly chemotherapy), cancer patients experience various side effects such as fatigue, changes in weight, difficulty with swallowing or breathing, hair loss, persistent pain or discomfort, and unexplained bleeding (Madmoli et al., 2018).
The persistent side-effects such as fatigue and pain can be managed through a combination of lifestyle changes and supplemental therapy. Patients are recommended to follow a developed management plan which balances activity and rest, as well as following a healthy diet and other healthy habits that improve well-being. Medication and physical therapy can be used to manage pain and discomfort in the long-term. Furthermore, cognitive behavior therapy or other methods of psychological or spiritual guidance is recommended to maintain mental health in adversity and approach the side-effects from a different perspective (Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria, n.d.).
Contributing Factors and Education
Recent 2018 statistics indicate that 1,735,350 cases of cancer are diagnosed annually, with 609,640 people dying from the disease. The cancer death rate has steadily declined, particularly the critical age-adjusted mortality indicator (National Cancer Institute, 2018). Lifestyle has been identified as a critical factor of incidence and mortality for various cancers. Smoking accounts for 81.7% of lung cancers and 73.8% of laryngeal cancers. Obesity is associated with 60.3% of uterine cancers and 33.9% of liver cancers. Alcohol impacts 46.3% of pharyngeal cancers in men and 27.4% in women, and 24.8% of liver cancers in men and 11.9% in women. Meanwhile, external factors such as UV radiation is responsible for 96% of all skin melanomas (Mendes, 2017).
The ACS provides fundamental information, statistics, and explanations regarding all cancer-related aspects ranging from diagnosis to staging and types of treatment in a simple manner. Providing this information to patients is crucial to their participation in treatment. The ACS also offers a hotline which can provide further information or connect patients with necessary resources. The organization offers a variety of services or works with partner organizations which offer these for cancer patients. These include various lodging and transportation services for patients attempting to receive treatment, counseling services, community support and initiatives, advocacy and financial help organizations, and even projects which provide free wigs to cancer patients (American Cancer Society, n.d.). Many of the organizations that the ASC connects patients with are non-profit or volunteer-based, allowing for vulnerable populations to benefit the most.
The nursing process consists of five key stages: assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation, and evaluation (Toney-Butler & Thayer, 2019). Nurses are often the first and most common interaction with patients. Therefore, at the assessment stage, nurses have a crucial role of using objective data and laboratory tests, nurses can identify the need to test for cancer and collect subjective data regarding the health and lifestyle of the patient. For the diagnosis stage, nurses must use clinical judgment and available data to form a diagnosis. In cancer patients, this step is vital as it determines the further plan of treatment depending on the type of cancer, in addition to the psychological pressures involved.
The planning stage consists of setting goals and outcomes for further care based on evidence-based practice and guidelines. For cancer patients, this can include further testing, the start of treatment and chemotherapy, scheduling visits, and periodic lab work or imaging to determine the progress of treatment as well as further action required. The implementation consists of the actual process of providing care. Nurses are often very involved with cancer patients during hospitalizations or visits for chemotherapy. Cancer patients may experience numerous side effects of treatment as well as the need for guidance and support which nurses can offer while also providing the implementation of professional care and medications. The final stage is evaluation, requiring assessing whether the desired outcome has been achieved. While physicians are more involved in this process with cancer patients, nurses can provide professional input and also be involved in patient care. This includes conducting patient check-ups and diagnostic testing to verify remission or a need for further treatment in cancer cases.
Liberal arts and sciences are vital to nursing undergraduate education and discipline as they provide foundational knowledge as well as contribute to skills such as critical thinking, holistic care, and creativity. These are beneficial to nursing students by enhancing communication and decision-making and providing capabilities to navigate diversity. This is vital considering the psychosocial, spiritual, and economic concepts that nurses must balance in all aspects of the profession. Meanwhile, skills in mathematics and sciences greatly aid in the empirical aspects of nursing, such as assessment and diagnosis that requires to utilize a scientific method of sorts, to complex tasks such as giving medication that requires an understanding of dosages and measurements (Kooken & Kerr, 2018). Both liberal arts and empirical sciences play a role in the nursing process as nurses must be able to think critically, pay attention to detail, and communicate well with patients from the early assessment to evaluation. Meanwhile, a logical and well-researched approach is necessary in planning and implementation of treatment to design a care plan that is effective for the patient.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). About the American Cancer Society. Web.
American Cancer Society. (2015). Cancer staging. Web.
Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria. (n.d.). Life after treatment. Web.
Kooken, W. C., & Kerr, N. (2018). Blending the liberal arts and nursing: Creating a portrait for the 21st century. Journal of Professional Nursing, 34(1), 60-64. Web.
Madmoli, M., Izadi, M., Madmoli, M., Khodadadi, M., Ahmadi, F.P., & Aliabad, M.A. (2018). A systematic review study of the most important complications of chemotherapy in cancer patients. Journal of Biotechnology and Bioengineering, 3(1), 2-7. Web.
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Mendes, E. (2017). More than 4 in 10 cancers and cancer deaths linked to modifiable risk factors. Web.
National Cancer Institute. (2018). Cancer statistics. Web.
National Cancer Institute. (2019). How cancer is diagnosed. Web.
Toney-Butler, T.J. & Thayer, J. M. (2019). Nursing process. Treasure Island, FL: StatPearls Publishing. Web.