Cancer Registrar  What They Do

Just the Facts


Insider Info

dotCancer registrars collect and maintain the information used in cancer registries. A cancer registry is a system that collects and manages data about people who have cancer.

Cancer registrars collect information from medical records, clinics, physicians' offices, health-care facilities and Internet resources. They track information over a patient's lifetime.

Cancer registrars enter coded data in their records. For example, 01 is the code for a male patient and 02 is the code for a female. There are too many codes to remember, so they refer to code manuals for help. "It is very complicated. It truly is!" says Linda Mulvihill. She is a board member for the National Cancer Registrar's Association (NCRA). "But it is easy to make coded data electronic. "

Electronic records are becoming more common. Electronic records are records stored in computer files and computer databases. In some locations, cancer registrars still use paper records.

dotWhat is the purpose of a cancer registry? Cancer registries help us understand cancer as it relates to race, gender, age and geographic location. It shows how many cancer cases occur in a one area compared to another area. It shows the survival rates for persons with various stages of cancer.

The data helps us understand which treatments have the best outcome. It shows us when early intervention programs are working and when they are not. It also reminds doctors and patients when examinations are due.

The information is very important in helping us understand the best ways to prevent and treat cancer patients. For example, years ago patients with breast cancer usually had surgical procedures called radical mastectomies. Today, most breast cancer patients have smaller, simpler surgical procedures called lumpectomies. "That was based on registry data showing the lumpectomies had the same outcome," said Mulvihill. "We feel proud!"

dot Cancer registrars also work for drug companies or for researchers. The type of work cancer registrars do is valuable in supporting screening trials, for example.

"There is a lot of opportunity for self-employment or contracting, "says Steven Peace. Peace works for a research organization in Maryland. "There is opportunity to provide data collection and abstracting support services."

Persons with a physical disability could do this work. "Definitely!" comments Mulvihill. "It is a sedentary type of work."

Both men and women work in this field, although Mulvilhill estimates that 95 percent of cancer registrars are women.

Keeping up with medical advances and medical technology is very important. Cancer registrars constantly learn new things. They might attend conferences, take continuing education courses in classes or through distance education, read journals, or research websites.

In some cases, hospitals with cancer programs might employ only one cancer registrar. He or she must work independently.

At a Glance

Gather the information needed to track trends in cancer diagnosis and treatment

  • The information found in cancer registries has led to significant gains in our understanding of cancer
  • Insiders say there is increasing demand in this field
  • You'll have to keep on top of changes in coding