Clinical update

Breast cancer nursing: your guide to new RCN competency framework

The RCN has published a competency framework to inform the academic and career pathways of UK nurses at all stages of their career

The RCN has published a competency framework to inform the academic and career pathways of UK nurses at all stages of their career

One in seven UK women are diagnosed with breast cancer
One in seven UK women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Picture: iStock

Essential information

According to Cancer Research UK (CRUK), 126 people in England are diagnosed with breast cancer every day.

One in seven UK females are diagnosed during their lifetime, making it the most common cancer for women in the UK.

Survival rates for breast cancer have doubled in the past 40 years. In England and Wales, 78% survive their disease for ten years or more, while around two thirds survive for at least 20 years.

However, 11,500 women die of breast cancer every year in the UK and it is the second most common cause of cancer death.

CRUK says 23% of cases are preventable, with risk factors including being overweight and drinking alcohol.

What’s new?

In August, the RCN published a competency framework for nurses who are providing care to people with breast cancer.

It aims to inform the academic and career pathways of UK nurses at all stages of their career, from newly-registered through to advanced and consultant practitioner levels.

The framework helps nurses map their own competence, identifying any areas for clinical and professional development.

It may also assist career planning; be used during performance review and appraisal meetings to review progress and pinpoint needs, collate evidence that can be used in revalidation, help in reviewing in-house learning, induction and preceptorship programmes, and identify opportunities to influence the development of breast cancer nursing practice.

Designed to be used flexibly, the framework acknowledges that not all competencies will be relevant in every circumstance. Nurses have space to record their own information, including self-assessment, an action plan, and evidence of success.

The framework is divided into 18 areas, including diagnosis, screening and health promotion; communication; psychological care; breast surgery; radiotherapy; follow-up; palliative and end of life care; and leadership. Each section also has a full list of resources.

Implications for nurses

Nurses recognise that cancer is increasingly being viewed as a long-term condition, rather than a life-limiting illness.

In practice, this means that nurses who work in a variety of settings may be involved in delivering care – including primary and secondary care, the community, charities, telephone support services and hospices. This includes self-care and rehabilitation, with patients, their carers and loved ones at the centre of care planning.

Expert comment

Janyne Afseth, lecturer and programme leader, Edinburgh Napier UniversityJanyne Afseth is a lecturer and programme leader at Edinburgh Napier University, a steering group member of the RCN’s cancer and breast care forum, and the publication’s lead author

'Our clinical standards for working in a breast specialty were published in 2007, so they no longer reflected the diversity and skills needed by nurses supporting patients with breast cancer.

'We wanted the new publication to show what nurses were doing in practice, alongside current policies and guidelines.

'Surveys looking at cancer care consistently rate cancer nursing specialists highly, identifying them as a key element in a patient’s journey. But nurses across every level play an integral role, having the most contact with patients, so their importance is huge.

'This framework will help all nurses, giving them an understanding of what they should be looking at – for example, for patients who are recovering, a lot of support will be provided by general practice. It’s important that nurses working here understand issues such as common toxicities associated with some regimens, as they will be managing these patients’ general care.

'We hope it helps nurses assess themselves, developing an action plan to advance their knowledge, as well as gaining recognition for what they know and do already.'


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