Nurse Scientists Guide the Evidence in Symptom Science, and Inaugural Colloquium Recognizes That Impact on a National Level

Oncology nurses hold a unique position in improving symptom management and health outcomes in people with cancer, and their contributions to the body of symptom science are critical. In support of that work, ONS embarked on a landmark partnership with the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) and National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Center for Cancer Research to present the inaugural Colloquium on Symptom Science Advances in Oncology Nursing on February 4–5, 2021.

In 35 sessions and 115 poster presentations, oncology nurse scientists shared the latest findings from their symptom management research. Key highlights follow; view the full session recordings and poster abstracts in the links in the sidebar.

Psychosocial Symptoms

Oncology nurses are seeing increased levels of loneliness in their patients because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which impairs immune function and has implications for mortality, ONS member Christine Miaskowski, RN, PhD, FAAN, reported in her keynote presentation, “Symptom Science in Oncology During the Pandemic.” She highlighted the need for assessment for loneliness and development of interventions to address physiological stress and psychosocial distress.

In her portion of a second keynote presentation, “Symptom Science as a Resource for Precision Health,” ONS member Betty Ferrell, RN, PhD, MA, FAAN discussed how symptoms interfere with family relationships and spiritual and mental well-being of people with cancer. Ferrell also reiterated the stress of being diagnosed with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic and the experience of isolation and loneliness. 


In a panel discussion on nursing advancements in symptom science, Leorey Saligan, PhD, RN, CRNP, FAAN, who works at NINR, addressed precision health and symptom science and the role of persistent inflammation in the development of chronic cancer-related symptoms, particularly chronic fatigue. Researchers in his lab discovered the potential role of glutamatergic receptors in prolonged inflammatory activation after cancer treatment that may contribute to chronic symptoms. ONS member Mary Cooley, PhD, RN, FAAN, monitored the panel discussion.

Angela Starkweather, PhD, RN, ACNP-BC, CNRN, FAAN, who copresented the second keynote with Ferrell, described how the inflammatory response can affect symptoms such as cognitive dysfunction (also called chemo brain) in people with cancer.

Racial Disparities

Overcoming the disproportionate cancer mortality in people of color requires an organized approach to address institutional barriers, structural racism, and provider bias, ONS member Peg Rosenzweig, PhD, FNP-BC, AOCNP®, said in her “Disparities and Symptom Science” presentation. Oncology nurses must help grow symptom science with community participation.

Genetics and Genomics

ONS member Terri Armstrong, PhD, RN, FAAN, FAANP, who works at NCI, discussed the growing need to integrate measures of treatment impact on patients receiving new therapies in her presentation, “Clinical Outcomes Assessment and Risk Prediction for Symptoms and Toxicities in Therapeutic Trials.” By exploring the clinical and genomic susceptibility of disease-related and symptomatic toxicities, nurse scientists can understand who is at risk and study personalized, targeted approaches to prevention and symptom management.

Recognizing Nurse Scientists

Recognition by federal agencies like NINR and NCI reinforces the significance of oncology nurse scientists’ contributions to the oncology symptom management body of evidence. During the colloquium, ONS member Lisa Carter-Harris, PhD, RN, ANP-C, FAAN receive the Mid-Career Scientist Award, and two dyads received the Mentor-Mentee Award (ONS members Deborah Watkins Bruner, RN, PhD, FAAN, as mentor and Jinbing Bai, PhD, MSN, RN, as mentee; Miaskowski as mentor and Kord Kober, PhD, as mentee).

Ultimately, clinical practice informs research questions and the generation of new evidence. Oncology nurses are key players in symptom management and contribute to advances symptom science and improve patient outcomes. The inaugural Symptom Science Colloquium highlighted the critical role that oncology nurses serve in day-to-day symptom management of people with cancer, including opportunities to collaborate with research teams to advance symptom science.