Genetics in clinical oncology nursing practice permeates all aspects of care from prevention and detection to treatment decisions to long-term survivorship care. Each of these areas often overlap, and oncology nurses need a solid genetics understanding to provide optimal care.

Genetic testing offers a number of benefits to patients with cancer. For instance, women with ovarian cancer harboring a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation may benefit from a poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) Inhibitor. By blocking the PARP pathway, PARP inhibitors such as olaparib and rucaparib make it very hard for tumor cells with a mutated BRCA gene to repair damaged DNA. This often leads to the death of these cells.

Helping woman understand their genetic testing can also allow for them to select the right treatment for her ovarian cancer. Moreover, once your patient knows that she has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, she can decide whether to have more aggressive screening or risk-reducing surgeries. Beyond that, genetic testing can provide information for other family members who might be at increased risk for developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, melanoma, and possibly pancreatic cancer.

Addressing the Need for Continuing Education in Genetics

Genetics is a topic that receives little attention in most nursing programs. Given the role it plays in oncology practice, as well as its ever-growing role in numerous other healthcare subspecialties, education is sorely needed. Genetics professionals, educational institutions, and healthcare professionals need to do a better job informing the next generation of undergraduate nurses—along with nurses returning for graduate education—regardless of their specialty focus. Thousands of oncology nurses are engaged in direct clinical care who could immediately benefit from continuing education on genetics and the ways it changes oncology nursing care.

But that’s a tall order. It’s might seem time consuming, expensive, and even difficult to find reputable resources that provide accurate and timely continuing education on cancer genetics. But resources are out there, and oncology nurses need to learn how to access them.

Recently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a toolkit that aims to enable and inspire nurses to implement genetics and genomics into clinical care. There are multiple resources available, including links to assess the state of genetic care in an organization, potential strategies for implementation, along with an extensive list of resources for further education. Another extensive list of genetic resources is available in the February 2017 issue of Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing (CJON).

ONS members can obtain free continuing education through certain CJON articles. The October 2017 issue also has an article about recent trends in genetic testing for hereditary cancer, and more opportunities will be available in upcoming issues.

Take Advantage of a Free Genetics Webinar

ONS is stepping up to meet the educational challenge for genetics in cancer care with a free webinar on November 15, 2017, from 1:30–2:30 pm EST. The free webinar, "It's in the Genes: Understanding Genetics and Genomics in Oncology Practice" will discuss the critical information about genetics that oncology nurses need to consider in their personal practice. Tell your non-ONS member colleagues to tune in for free too!

The age of genetics and genomics has arrived. Oncology nurses will face new challenges every day that relate to the explosion of knowledge, but resources are available to help you understand the impact of genetics. Welcome the opportunity for continued learning to provide stellar nursing care in the age of genetics and genomics.