To help fight cancer, health care organizations maintain huge amounts of data on cancer patients, tracking them from the day they are diagnosed until the end of their lives. Each patient gets her own file, or abstract, which includes information such as age, occupation, type of cancer and its location, stage of the disease and treatments. Cancer registrars take the information on patient files and enter it into specific forms and databases using standard medical codes. Registrars often monitor patients from their initial diagnosis through the rest of their lives, compiling data about their treatment wherever they receive it.
This information is used internally by health care facilities and research institutions and also goes into statewide and national databases. Researchers, doctors and government agencies analyze this aggregated data to identify patterns and trends and track the results of treatments and patient survival rates.
Depending on how far they progress in their careers, registrars might help summarize and analyze the data, presenting it to health care professionals who use it to make diagnosis and treatment decisions. Cancer registrars work at hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, cancer registries, government agencies and software companies. Some registrars might decide to eventually move into nursing or other health care jobs.
Whether you’re an introvert who likes to work alone, or someone who enjoys working with others, a career as a cancer registrar offers both options. “This job is perfect for an introverted person who likes details,” says Cassie Simon, CTR, assistant director of cancer registry at the University of Chicago Medicine. “They have to be curious people, interested in patient histories, collecting the details and finding out the patient’s story. We do a lot of very detailed work.”
Additionally, if you’re outgoing, you have opportunities to speak at conferences, serve on committees and meet the public at educational events as you progress in your career.
Education and training
The path to becoming a cancer registrar includes several options, including earning a specific associate’s degree, adding a certificate to your current college degree, and/or getting hands-on training and experience at a health care facility. The most practical route to take might be to earn an associate’s degree or a certificate in cancer registry management or cancer information management, depending on the amount of college credits you already have. Typical classes needed include biology, pharmacology, human physiology, anatomy and those that teach you how to understand and use standard medical terms and codes. Look for college programs accredited by the National Cancer Registrars Association.
While certification isn’t currently necessary to work in the field, it can help you secure more and better-paying jobs and advance your career. As of 2015, registrars will need to be NCRA certified to create abstracts for many institutions. The requirements for becoming a Certified Tumor Registrar vary, based on your college coursework or experience. You can find the requirements at the NCRA website.
Because they do not work with patients, cancer registrars are not on call and don’t respond to emergencies. They can work regular weekday hours or create flexible schedules, working on site or from home, says Simon. “I allow my staff to select their scheduled work hours and shift,” she adds. “Many registries are now allowing their registrars to telecommute from home, and they’re able to access the records online.”
The mean salary for cancer registrars was approximately $50,600 in 2012, according to an NCRA salary survey, while jobs website Indeed.com shows Chicago cancer registrars earning $56,000 annually on average, as of August, 2013. The NRCA found that cancer registry managers and directors made an average of approximately $72,400, with mid-level managers making approximately $60,400.
“I always like to tell my staff that we’re telling the patient’s story,” says Simon. “We follow them for their lifetime, and it feels really good to make a difference. This is really a great profession and there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years, and it’s been growing and the pay has gotten better. I just can’t be more pleased with the way things have worked out for me.”