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AANP Member Spotlight: Navigating Patients Through Their Cancer Journey


Hear from Kristi Adams Acker, DNP, PhD, FNP-BC, AOCNP, ACHPN, FAANP, on providing patients with strategies for cancer prevention.

According to a recent study published in the National Library of Medicine, “1,958,310 new cancer cases and 609,820 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States” in 2023. However, due to the advancement of early screenings and guidance from health care professionals, cancer rates have been declining in recent years. April is National Cancer Control Month — a time to promote cancer prevention and improve the quality of life for cancer survivors. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) spoke to Oncology Specialty Practice Group (SPG) co-chair Dr. Kristi Adams Acker on the importance of preventive care for patients at risk of cancer, encouraging screenings and ways nurse practitioners (NPs) can best assist their patients through the cancer journey.

Q: As a co-chair of the Oncology SPG, what have you found to be most effective when discussing cancer prevention with fellow providers and your patients? How can these conversations and plans impact a patient's cancer journey?

Dr. Kristi Acker: Cancer prevention comes in many forms and, unfortunately, with many assumptions. As oncology providers, we often assume that other professionals fully understand the importance of screening for the long-term complications of treatment, including the risks for second cancers. But, as specialty providers, we should assume less and communicate more. To assist fellow providers who may not be versed in the need for surveillance and screening for the late effects of cancer, the oncology provider must provide clear plans for future screening and follow-up.

A detailed plan helps fellow providers and clearly shares the plans with the patient and family. Patients often experience fear and anxiety after completing therapy, and the desire to know how to actively participate in their well-being is essential. Providing a clear plan of care that is patient-centric and where goals are reassessed frequently can be the key to equipping patients to engage in their health.

Q: How can NPs help increase public education about the risk factors of cancer and encourage cancer screenings in the communities they serve?

Acker: NPs need to be current in the science concerning cancer prevention and screening — educating patients on the risks of tobacco usage, sun exposure and unhealthy lifestyle choices and providing strategies for weight management, limiting alcohol and increasing physical activity. Also, an approach that often goes unrecognized is the role that human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination has in preventing certain cancers. Through childhood vaccination schedules, we are avoiding HPV-related malignancies as adults.

Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy can help embed therapeutic actions to support adequate sleep and boost metabolism. In combination with physical activity and healthy diets, good sleep patterns can be essential to promote well-being and cancer prevention.

NPs are afforded unique avenues for disseminating screening information through health fairs, routine patient encounters and mentoring. I encourage NPs to remain active in professional organizations and share the newest data with colleagues. Tapping into available community resources, such as nursing programs, is yet another route for dissemination. NPs must work to network with other providers and ensure patients understand eligibility for routine screening practices.

Q: In what ways are NPs uniquely equipped to navigate patients through their cancer journey — from conveying a difficult diagnosis all the way through treatment — to improve patient outcomes and better cancer survivors' quality of life?

Acker: At our core, we are nurses. Nursing continues to be the most trusted profession, and there is a reason for its perpetual high ranking. Patients talk to nurses, and nurses listen. Often, patients and their families can get lost in a cancer diagnosis and fail to think about the future. I want to constantly remind patients that beyond treatment, there is normalcy. Perhaps not the same as before treatment — but rather, a new normal.

Through efforts to ensure that patient-centered care is a top priority, advanced practice nurses have the means to reassess goals for their patients and families. I will always appreciate the critical role and influence we, as nurses, have in promoting health and well-being. We should continue to lead and support patients where they are and where they are going on the cancer journey.

Learn Head and Neck Cancer Essentials With the AANP Course of the Month

Are you looking for ways to increase cancer prevention in your community, all the while earning valuable continuing education (CE) credit? Increase your knowledge about evaluating patients’ risk of developing head and neck cancers by enrolling in the April Course of the Month! Complete “Head and Neck Cancer Essentials: What NPs Need to Know” at a member-discounted price to earn 1.0 contact hours (CH) of CE credit.

Enroll Now