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Prior to 1950, the major cancer treatment method was surgery, and the role of the nurse was limited to inpatient care of the hospitalized surgical patient. As chemotherapy and radiation therapy evolved as treatment methods, nurses looked for opportunities to contribute to cancer care.

It was not until the 1970s that major advances occurred in the areas of cancer treatment and oncology nursing. The 1971 National Cancer Act provided impetus for a comprehensive program focused on reducing the incidence, morbidity, and mortality of cancer. Cancer survival rates improved, and nursing experienced a shift that expanded roles and acknowledged the importance of professionalism in nursing. The result was nursing involvement in educational programs that focused on oncology nursing as a specialty nursing area. 

Over the years, oncology nursing continued to develop in response to:

  • Needs of individuals with cancer, at risk for developing cancer, 
    or surviving cancer;
  • National and international recognition of cancer as a major chronic health problem;
  • Advances in science and technology, and
  • Changes in perceptions of cancer within the lay and professional

These driving forces continue to require nursing practice that has a specialized focus in caring for individuals and families experiencing cancer.


The practice of oncology nursing encompasses the roles of direct caregiver, educator, consultant, administrator, and researcher. Oncology nursing extends to all care delivery settings where clients experiencing or at risk for developing cancer receive health care, education, and counseling for cancer prevention, screening and detection. 

The oncology nurse functions as a coordinator of care, collaborating with other cancer care providers and team members to provide required care as effectively as possible. 

Advanced practice also may include the roles of direct caregiver, coordinator, consultant, educator, researcher and administrator. 

Advanced nursing practice in oncology as a direct caregiver implies mastery of the nursing process and the ability to provide, guide, and evaluate nursing practice delivered to individuals diagnosed with cancer, their families, and the community. 

As a coordinator, the oncology nurse works expertly with the multidisciplinary oncology team to achieve realistic healthcare goals for an individual or for an entire community. 

In the role of consultant, oncology nurses provide expertise about oncology to colleagues, allied health personnel, and healthcare consumers, while as an educator, the oncology nurse designs and performs a variety of patient education activities. 

As researcher, the oncology nurse identifies and investigates researchable problems, and evaluates and applies research findings that affect cancer care or nursing. 

In their work as administrators and managers, oncology nurses create environments conducive to the optimum health of the public and to professional nursing practice. 


The nature of oncology nursing care spans the spectrum from prevention and acute care through rehabilitative and palliative supportive care as necessary. 
Because the field is so diverse, oncology nurses can focus on:

  • chemotherapy -- biotherapy
  • breast oncology -- hematology/oncology
  • radiation -- surgical oncology
  • GYN oncology -- head and neck oncology
  • bone marrow transplant -- cancer genetic counseling
  • prevention and early detection -- symptom management
  • palliative care


In addition to basic educational preparation to function as a registered professional nurse, oncology nursing practice at the generalist level requires a cancer-specific knowledge base and demonstrated clinical expertise in cancer care beyond that acquired in a basic nursing program.

The oncology nurse actively participates in professional role development including continuing education, quality assessment and improvement, and the review and clinical application of research findings.

Advanced oncology nursing practice requires substantial theoretical knowledge in oncology nursing and the proficient use of this knowledge in providing expert care.

The basis for advanced nursing practice in oncology requires a minimum of a master’s degree. 

Oncology nurses can demonstrate their competency by becoming an oncology certified nurse (OCN® ), advanced oncology certified nurse (AOCN® ) or a certified pediatric oncology nurse (CPON). For more information, contact 

Also, the Oncology Nursing Society offers a Cancer Chemotherapy
Program to encourage consistency in practice among professional nurses who administer chemotherapy. The program validates that the nurse has the knowledge needed to administer chemotherapy and is valid for two years. For more information, contact 

Practice Settings:

Oncology nursing practice occurs along the continuum of care and across care delivery settings. Areas can include inpatient or outpatient settings at community hospitals or multi-hospital systems. Oncology nurses practice at National Cancer Institute-designed cancer centers or community cancer center settings. These nurses work in home health care, hospice, public health and community nursing. They develop private practices, work at physicians’ offices, teach at schools of nursing, and practice in extended care facilities. Oncology nurses also work in the pharmaceutical industry and in occupation health settings. 

Salary Range:

Oncology nurses nationally earn salaries beginning at $35,000 annually with advanced practice nurses earning salaries ranging from $60,000 to $125,000.


Oncology nursing practice at the generalist levels requires basic educational preparation to function as a registered professional nurse. The basis for advanced nursing practice in oncology requires a minimum of a master’s degree. 


Oncology Nursing Society
125 Enterprise Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15275-1214
FAX: 412-859-6164
Web site:

American Society of Pain Management Nurses (ASPMN)
7794 Grow Drive
Pensacola, FL 32514
(888) 34-ASPMN
FAX: (850) 484-8762

Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC)
704 Stony Hill Road, Suite 106
Yardley, PA 19067
(215) 321-2371

Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses (APHON)
4700 West Lake Avenue
Glenview, IL 60025-1485
(847) 375-4724
FAX: (847) 375-6324
Web site:

Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA)
Penn Center West One, Suite 229
Pittsburgh, PA 15276
(412) 787-9301
FAX: (412) 787-9305
Web site:

International Society of Nurses in Cancer Care (ISNCC)
Greater London House
Hampstead Road
London NW1 7EJ
United Kingdom
Telephone: 011-44-171-874-0289
FAX: 011-44-171-874-0290

Society of Gynecologic Nurse Oncologists (SGNO)
6024 Welch Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76133

Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head-Neck Nurses, Inc. (SOHN)
116 Canal Street, Suite A
New Smyrna Beach, FL 32168
(904) 428-1695
FAX: (904) 423-7566
Web site:


Cancer Nursing (

Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing (

The Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing (

Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing (

Oncology Nursing Forum (

Oncology Nursing News (

ONS News (

ONS Online (

Seminars in Oncology Nursing (