Learning your child has cancer can be a staggering blow for a parent. Confusion and worry may overwhelm you as you question why this happened to your child.
It may be reassuring to know childhood cancer survival rates have improved dramatically over the past 25 years. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), more than 80 percent of children with cancer are alive five years after diagnosis, compared to about 60 percent in the 1970s. This improvement has been partly attributed to chemotherapy and biotherapy treatments.
Giving a child his or her chemotherapy – the use of drugs to kill cancer cells – or biotherapy – treatments that boost or restore the immune system’s ability to fight cancer or lessen certain side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments – is a complex process that is constantly changing. Care must be taken to keep both the child and the nurse administering the drugs safe.
To promote patient safety and improve quality of care, oncology nurses at Children’s Hospital Central California participate in specialized training in pediatric chemotherapy and biotherapy administration. Specifically, they go through the Association of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Nurses’ (APHON) Pediatric Chemotherapy and Biotherapy Provider Program. Children’s is the third pediatric hospital in California to offer this course. (Nurses - to register, contact Clinical Education and Informatics at (559) 353-5902.) Only 5,000 of the 2.9 million nurses in the United States have completed this training.
So why this increased emphasis on chemotherapy and biotherapy? Both have high levels of toxicity. This training helps to ensure patients and nurses are safe as well as support and educate patients and families.
During the two-day pediatric chemotherapy and biotherapy course, nurses learn about pediatric cancer, clinical trials, chemotherapy and biotherapy drugs, safe handling and administration, side effects, toxicity and symptom management, psychosocial issues and legal and ethical issues.
The course gives nurses a detailed understanding of the various types of chemotherapy and biotherapy agents, the body systems they impact and their potential side effects. They become knowledgeable about the tests that need to be ordered before a particular drug is given and what role a child’s weight, height and body surface plays in safely administering the medication. Nurses learn how to assess a patient family’s understanding of the disease and the treatment. The material covers how to educate patients and parents to look for potential drug side effects, which is crucial. Our oncology nurses take extensive measures to prevent contamination when giving these drugs to patients. They wear a non-permeable gown, double gloves, goggles and a mask. It’s a time consuming process but one that is extremely important to keep both the patient and the nurse safe. Once nurses successfully complete the course, they have to pass a skills validation before they can administer treatments on their own.
Children’s embraces the philosophy of family-centered care with the nurse as the coordinator of that care. With our oncology nurses taking these strides to focus on chemotherapy and biotherapy competence, it helps to ensure incredible care is provided to some of our most vulnerable patients.