Demystifying cancer terms

The assumption that everyone knows everything there is to know about cancer needs to by demystified by nurses, argues Susanne Cruickshank

The assumption that everyone knows everything there is to know about cancer needs to by demystified by nurses, argues the chair of RCN cancer and breast cancer forum

Picture: iStock

I was preparing my talk for this year’s RCN congress fringe event called Demystifying the language of cancer, and it struck me that carcinogenesis, epidemiology, aetiology, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy have become such familiar terms for those of us working in cancer. 

Although those who work in specialist cancer services know the terms well, it cannot always be assumed that everyone in the team, for example, students, clinical support workers and non-cancer specialists, know why, when and how these interrelated elements reflect the cancer picture we see across the UK.

The fringe event incorporated some of the essential learning necessary to meet the different nursing sensitive outcomes outlined in the Career and Education Framework for Cancer Nursing; namely basic science and diagnosing cancer. The opening section focused on understanding why cancer starts and spreads; illustrated through an animated film. It was well-received.


I teach about the biology of cancer in my day job, but the courses I have undertaken over the years when working clinically didn’t always include this. It doesn’t do us any harm as nurses to refresh our knowledge in this area as it improves our understanding of the effects of treatment on cancer cells.

Committee member Philippa Doohan spoke about navigating a diagnosis of breast cancer and Nikki Morris about the complimentary nature of the third-sector in supporting people affected by cancer, irrespective of type, stage or outcome.

They illustrated the role that nurses can have in alleviating distress and providing a safe environment for people to discuss their concerns. However, when we are busy and feel pressured for time, we can always recommend people use third-sector services in their local area who can further support the individual. 

People newly-diagnosed with cancer often do not know what services are available – we need to be mindful of this.

About the author

 Susanne Cruickshank @Sue_Cruickshank, chair of the RCN cancer and breast care forum


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