What is cancer education?

Quick Answer
The creation and distribution of information to teach health professionals by assisting their study and advancement of oncology procedures and enhancing their teaching of patients, the public, and peers.
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Subspecialties: An interdisciplinary effort, cancer education encompasses diverse specialties, including oncology, nursing, pediatrics, dentistry, pharmacy, dietetics, genetic counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, physician assistance, and social work.

Cancers treated: Cancer education addresses all known cancers, focusing on commonly occurring cancers, particularly breast, prostate, and colon cancers, which medical professionals frequently diagnose in patients. Internationally, medical, dental, and nursing schools educate students regarding cancers they will probably encounter in their residencies and practices. Graduate medical students obtain advanced cancer education according to specialties they pursue in their training and research.

Training and certification: Cancer educators often receive basic training for educational procedures as part of health-related degrees they earn. The American Association for Cancer Education (AACE) offers workshops and clinics at its annual conferences, during which participants can acquire skills and learn about developments in cancer education research and practices to earn credits and certificates acknowledging they participated in those educational experiences. The American Cancer Society (ACS) and Oncology Nursing Society present continuing education opportunities for cancer educators to complete specific training to learn methods and strategies for more effective cancer education services for patients and their caregivers.

Services and procedures performed: Cancer education experts instruct medical professionals while they attend school and throughout their careers concerning methods to diagnose cancers in patients and to determine which treatments to recommend. Governments, academic institutions, and such groups as the American Cancer Society fund research to enhance educational opportunities for physicians and health professionals to provide suitable, up-to-date medical care for cancer patients. Professional and licensing organizations such as the American College of Surgeons offer resources in their educational departments.

The American Association for Cancer Education and European Association for Cancer Education reinforce their members’ educational and teaching skills in medical and dental colleges, hospitals, and other forums by offering information in such specific areas of cancer education as oral oncology and palliative care and by encouraging continued training in cancer education. Those professional organizations collaboratively publish the Journal of Cancer Education, which contains news and articles evaluating cancer education techniques, communication, and research. Representatives of the American Association for Cancer Education survey cancer education taught at US medical and dental schools to evaluate the curricula offered and offer insights regarding what cancer education should address in schools.

Health professionals supply information to assist people in acquiring knowledge to prevent or mitigate cancer through informed decisions, early detection of symptoms, and the choice of effective treatments. Cancer educators inform both children and adults in their communities regarding cancer issues. Educators present cancer prevention information at schools and workplaces, advising healthy nutrition and behaviors to minimize risks associated with cancer. Cancer educators convey information concerning genetic testing for potentially inherited cancer vulnerabilities.

Medical personnel realize cancer education counters misinformation and enables better medical care, helping adjust perceptions concerning cancer by explaining that many cancers are treatable, not terminal. Cancer educators create and distribute accessible information, assessing literacy and cultural factors to achieve effective communication. Educators evaluate attitudes regarding cancer in individual patients and their caregivers to determine the specific educational materials, ranging from pamphlets to videotapes and Internet resources, most likely to assist them. Cancer educators assist comprehension of information to ease physical and emotional aspects of cancer by explaining tests, procedures, medications, and side effects.

Many hospitals and cancer centers maintain cancer education information in health libraries and learning centers with education personnel designated to administer those resources. Cancer groups, hospitals, and drug manufacturers publish educational material to assist cancer educators to learn about new treatments and pharmaceuticals.

The American Cancer Society has pursued education through media, a Facts About Cancer pamphlet, lists of seven basic cancer symptoms, and educational guides devoted to specific cancers. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) contributes to cancer education by helping both health provider educators and people seeking cancer information. The institute published the Trainer’s Guide for Cancer Education (2005) and established a Cancer Information Service and an Office of Cancer Communications. The NCI Patient Education Branch created the Cancer Patient Education Network. The Wellness Community also provides cancer education resources.


Labus, James B., and Alison A. Lauber. Patient Education and Preventative Medicine. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2001. Print.

National Cancer Institute. Trainer’s Guide for Cancer Education. Bethesda: NIH, Natl. Cancer Inst., 2005. Print.

Osborne, Helen. Health Literacy from A to Z: Practical Ways to Communicate Your Health Message. 2nd ed. Burlington: Jones, 2013. Print.

Quintana, Yuri, Aubrey Van Kirk Villalobos, and Dorothy May. Advancing Cancer Education and Healthy Living in Our Communities: Putting Visions and Innovations into Action. Amsterdam: IOS, 2012. Print.

Rankin, Sally H., Karen Duffy Stallings, and Fran London. Patient Education in Health and Illness. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 2005. Print.

Saca-Hazboun, Hanan. “Empowering Patients with Knowledge: An Update on Trends in Patient Education.” ONS Connect 22.5 (2007): 8–12. Print.

Varricchio, Claudette, et al., eds. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses. 8th ed. Sudbury: Jones, 2004. Print.

Wilkes, Gail M., and Terri B. Ades. Patient Education Guide to Oncology Drugs. 2nd ed. Sudbury: Jones, 2004. Print.

Organizations and Professional Societies

American Association for Cancer Education . http://www.aaceonline.com, 620 Walnut Street, 330 WARF Building, Madison, WI 53726.

European Association for Cancer Education . http://www.eaceonline.com, Academie Gezondheidzorg, Saxion Hogescholen, Postbus 70.000, 7500 KB Enschede, The Netherlands.

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