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Worldwide survey reveals potentially damaging gaps in nurses' cancer knowledge

The University of Surrey investigated nurses’ awareness of cancer screening and diagnosis in eight countries, including Turkey, Brazil and Jordan 

The University of Surrey investigated nurses’ awareness of cancer screening and diagnosis in eight countries, including Turkey, Brazil and Jordan


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Nurses’ knowledge of cancer and screening processes varies significantly worldwide, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Surrey investigated nurses’ awareness of cancer warning signs, cancer screening and the frequency of discussions held with patients about early cancer diagnosis in eight countries.

The research, published in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing, examined 21 studies in the field.

Lack of understanding about screening

In Jordan, only 9.1% of nurses knew the recommended age of initiation for colorectal screening is 50 years old and in Brazil just 12.5% of nurses knew the correct age for breast screening in their country.

There was also a lack of understanding about how often individuals should be screened.

Researchers found a low proportion of nurses in Turkey, Brazil, Jordan and Oman were aware of the correct recommendations in their countries.

In the UK, a high proportion of nurses routinely promoted cervical screening (91.6%) and provided information about its benefits (87.4%), with less than 10% of nurses holding similar discussions in Jordan, Oman and Brazil.

Reasons for not having such discussions included lack of time (83.9%), professional burnout (54%) and lack of knowledge about screening (42.2%).

Nurses' critical role

The researchers warned that for countries without organised cancer screening programmes, a patient’s decision to participate in screening is often influenced by recommendations from primary care professionals. 

The study’s lead author, Hanna Skrobanski from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Surrey, said that with cancer the second leading cause of death, nurses played a critical role in spotting the signs of the disease.

‘Early diagnosis is key and nurses play an important role in recognising and responding to cancer warning signs in patients,’ she said.

‘Lack of knowledge in certain countries could lead to a delay in patients accessing treatment and result in unnecessary deaths.’

Find out more

European Journal of Oncology Nursing (2019) Understanding primary care nurses’ contribution to cancer early diagnosis: A systematic review


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