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Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium Spotlights Oncology Nurse's Essential Role

By Lauren M. Green
PUBLISHED THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, 1970
Ann Culkin, RN, OCN

Ann Culkin, RN, OCN

For more than 3 decades, the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium (CFS) has brought together thousands of oncology professionals each year to glean the latest practice-changing research, earning consistently high marks for the meeting’s relevant content and expert presenters.

The 2016 meeting, to be held November 9-11 in New York City, should prove no exception, and this year, the CFS is also extending an invitation to a very special group—oncology nurses. And, the organizers have developed a special CE-accredited learning track designed specifically for them.

Importantly, the topics reflect not only what nurses have said they want to learn more about, but also, the oncology nurse’s need to stay up-to-date on the ever-changing landscape of cancer treatment and patient care.

“It’s the oncology nurses who continue to lead the way for the best possible outcomes for patients,” explained Ann Culkin, RN, OCN, who is co-chairing this year’s CFS nurse track. Culkin has been an oncology nurse for 30 years—24 of them at Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center, where she is currently a clinical nurse specializing in thoracic oncology.

Focus on Clinical Practice
A hallmark of all CFS presentations is their focus on delivering the content to oncology professionals in a succinct, practice-focused way. The presentations scheduled for the nurse track cover a wide range of topics that oncology nurses are likely to encounter in their daily practice.

Thus, one of the CFS nurse sessions will focus on improving patient adherence to oral anticancer medications, which happens also to be a strong focus of Culkin’s work supporting patients with lung cancer. These therapies, she stressed, are more prevalent in oncology practice today, but unlike chemotherapy infusions, much harder to monitor:

“Nurses lead the way in oral adherence. Patients who are taking oral anticancer therapies at home rely on nurses working in collaboration with the physician to ensure that they are going to remember to take their medicine every day.”

The oral adherence session at CFS will explore practical strategies nurses can deploy to help ensure that their patients take their medicine as prescribed, among them text messaging reminders. Culkin added that enlisting and educating the patient’s caregiver is very important, too.

In addition, nurses often struggle with the issue of how adherence can be documented. “Cancer centers across the country are having trouble with that,” noted Culkin. “What are the questions to ask, and how do you then capture that in a medical record?”

The nurse track will also feature sessions on the benefits on integrating palliative care early and finding ways to engage more nurses (and physicians) working in community settings in participatory research.

A poll of oncology nurses would probably find that they all frequently hear their patients and survivors ask, “What can I do,” to improve their outcomes and reduce their risk of recurrence. With that in mind, Culkin and her planning team included in the nurse track a session focused on lifestyle interventions like nutrition and exercise.

“More and more research studies are being done to better understand the role of exercise for patients,” Culkin said, adding that although often overlooked, exercise is particularly valuable in the metastatic cancer setting. “In fact, we know that exercise actually improves symptom management and improves overall sense of well-being throughout the trajectory of one’s illness.”

Side Effect Management and irAEs
Any practice-driven oncology meeting will need to address issues connected to immunotherapy’s growing footprint in cancer treatment, and for nurses, this means managing immune-related adverse events (irAEs), the focus of another CFS presentation.

“Immunotherapy is the horizon before us, but we have yet to navigate to the best of our ability managing side effects, and also, patient selection,” said Culkin.  She added that issues related to enrolling patients with autoimmune diseases persist, and standards and practices for managing irAEs are continuing to evolve.

Among more traditional anticancer treatments, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and hair loss are among patients’ most worrisome concerns, and the CFS will feature talks on both. Culkin is especially enthused that one of her colleagues at MSK, Mikel Ross, BSN, RN, OCN, CBCN, will be presenting on the Dignicap scalp cooling system to reduce hair loss, and as part of his talk, he will review the device’s 40-year history leading up to its recent FDA approval.

One of the nursing profession’s lead experts on pain management in oncology, Jeannine Brant, PhD, APRN, AOCN, FAAN, of the Billings Clinic in Montana will lead a session on the topic.

Culkin explained that recent law changes restricting opiate prescribing, such as the I-STOP prescription monitoring program, have impacted oncology practice. Moreover, many new delivery routes for pain relief are now available, for example, pumps, patches, sublingual, and subcutaneous, and interest in using integrative therapies like yoga and Reiki for symptom relief is growing on the part of patients—and nurses.

“Oncology nurses always want to guarantee a patient will be pain-free; we can’t always do that, but we do try,” Culkin acknowledged.

She stressed that learning opportunities like the CFS are becoming increasingly important for oncology nurses as more individuals are diagnosed with cancer and new research discoveries make the delivery of treatments more complex:

“We know that people are living longer. People are getting cancer often at an advanced age, and it’s really nurses who facilitate their longevity with optimal quality of life and preservation of dignity.”
Click here to learn more about earning nurse CE credit at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium and to register.
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