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Cancer navigation: Education, support, guidance through complexities

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Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013 12:00 am

FAIRBANKS — The word cancer can arouse feelings of angst and fear. Often, patients and their families feel a sense of being lost in the sea of information and maze of tests that accompany a cancer diagnosis.  

Personal calendars that once held lunch dates and social events are now flooded with physician appointments; mailboxes become a vessel for “explanation of benefits” forms from insurance companies; and time off from work is no longer saved for sunny vacations. When nothing in your world seems familiar anymore, cancer navigators are there to help you find your way from diagnosis through survivorship.

What is cancer navigation?

In 1990 Dr. Harold P. Freeman partnered with the American Cancer Society to develop the first patient navigation program in Harlem, N.Y. Dr. Freeman realized that cancer patients who experience financial, logistical and cultural barriers are prone to having a poorer prognosis.

Since 1990, the concept of patient navigation has evolved and grown into what we know it as: “individualized assistance offered to patients, families, and caregivers to help overcome health care system barriers and facilitate timely access to quality medical and psychosocial care from pre-diagnosis through all phases of the cancer experience.”

The Commission on Cancer has determined navigation to be a vital piece in the treatment of patients with cancer as is reflected in their current standards.

What do cancer navigators do?

Cancer diagnoses carry tremendous psychological, spiritual, financial, physical and emotional stressors. Patients must negotiate a complex array of diagnostic procedures, treatment options, and abundance of information from an entire team of physicians.

Many patients do not have a primary care provider to help tie all the information together helping them make informed decisions.  Navigators are a liaison between patients and their physician team, providing disease specific and treatment related education and emotional support.

Navigators also provide a connection for patients to resources for transportation and lodging as well as identifying needs for additional supportive services such as rehabilitation programs, dietitians and genetic counselors.

As the diagnostic work-up progresses and treatment begins, the often overwhelming stacks of bills come.

Many times insurance companies need clarification of a treatment or a code to pay the bill. Cancer navigators have a working knowledge of insurance programs and necessary information or paperwork.

Who are cancer navigators?

Cancer navigators are specially trained, culturally sensitive professionals who assume the role of personal guides and cancer patient advocates throughout the continuum of care.

Cancer navigators, though unique in their education and training, usually possess a nursing or social work degree.

Why is cancer navigation important?

Cancer navigation not only improves the patient’s quality of life and overall care experience but also, by ensuring access to timely treatment and long-term follow-up, can save the patient’s life.

At times, a patient needs to travel beyond the local area for specific treatments and tests. A navigator can provide a link to outside facilities and physicians as directed by the local team of providers.  

Does Fairbanks have cancer navigation?

Yes. At Fairbanks Memorial we have three nurse navigators and an oncology social worker. Our navigators are located in Room 108 of the J. Michael Carroll Cancer Center, in a private and comfortable setting to better meet the needs of patients and their families.

You can contact the navigation team at 458-6985 or at

The American Cancer Society also has lay navigators in its newly opened Cancer Resource Center.

Lay navigators are able to provide emotional support, greet and welcome patients and help discern any resources or referrals that might assist the patient through their diagnosis and treatment.

How can I help?

Attend community educational events such as the Breast Health Symposium: Spring into Health, on May 18 at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge.

Volunteer at the Cancer Resource Center by sending an email to or by contacting 458-6410.

Circle of Hope

Learn more about the Circle of Hope at:

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital seeks to provide the highest quality of care for all patients. Our Cancer Committee is dedicated to promoting early detection and intervention, as well as ongoing assistance, resources and support through our cancer navigation services.

Hannah Smith, BSN, RN, CBPN-IC, is with Fairbanks Memorial Hospital’s patient navigation program, and Jenna Feddersen, CTR, and Kathy Moss, CTR, are with the hospital’s Oncology Data Office.

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