Breast Cancer in Nursing

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

October is traditionally known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Friday, October 22, 2021, is Wear it Pink Day. This is a day to wear pink in honor of those who are actively fighting and those who have passed. It’s also a day dedicated to massive fundraising for breast cancer research. 

Linking nurses to breast cancer

Breast cancer impacts the nursing profession in multiple ways. One of the most important impacts is shown by studies of the effects of night shift work. The nursing profession is perhaps the largest contributor to the significant number of nurses who cover the night shift. These impacts have long been studied and recent findings from 2015-2019 have shown a significant impact on women who work the night shift. “Night work increases the breast cancer risk by 2.34 times, and high-intensity night work increases the breast cancer risk by 2.66 times,” according to the study. 

Breast cancer in the US is the second most common cancer diagnosed in women and remains one of the most common causes of death in women. (Lung cancer has the distinction of being number one.) Although breast cancer death rates declined between 1989 and 2017, it is still expected that over 42,000 women would have died in 2020 from breast cancer.  The decline is credited to improved awareness, patient education, and early detection and screening. In the 1990’s, one in four women would have had some form of invasive breast cancer and today that number has decreased to 1 in 8. There is still a long way to go to finding a cure. Remember, breast cancer does not discriminate, men can develop breast cancer and are at a higher risk if they have a familial history, but that is not a guarantee.

Other risk factors for breast cancer

The risk for breast cancer is most often a combination of factors, and the two of the most significant factors are being female and over the age of 50. Contributing elements and characteristics include a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, or other hereditary cancer syndromes. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes which all women have are usually tumor suppressors however they can mutate. The genes can be tested for inherited changes to predict risk. This risk is higher in women with long menstrual cycle history as defined as menarche at a young age (10-12) with menopause after age 55. 

Other contributing risk factors for breast cancer include women who have not had children or not breastfed or if a woman has her first child after the age of 30. Postmenopausal hormone therapy especially if it’s estrogen and progesterone combined, can have significant risk for breast cancer.  It is significant to point out that approximately 85% of breast cancers occur without any family history and in younger women as well. 

Certified Breast Cancer Nurse

Breast cancer also has an impact on the nursing profession. One of the many specialties in the field of nursing, and in particular the oncology field, is a certification in Breast Cancer Nursing (CBCN) which is one of several oncology related nursing certifications. To apply for the certification test, a nurse must first be an RN with an unencumbered license and at least 2 years of work experience in the last 48 months. In addition, the nurse must have 2000 hours of experience caring for breast cancer patients and at least 10 contact hours of continuing education in the field of breast cancer during the prior 36-month time frame. The candidate must pass the certification exam with a score of 80% or more. offers courses in breast cancer awareness for RNs and LPNs/LVNs as well as for APRNs

The CBCN is a lifelong certificate but must be periodically updated every 4 years. The nurse must be actively registered and employed and completed 1000 hours of breast cancer care along within 30 months prior to the renewal.  

Help raise awareness, educate patients, friends and family, and encourage early detection and screening for breast cancer by taking part in Breast Cancer Awareness activities.

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