The Value of a Certified Tumor Registrar | Blog

Certified Tumor Registrar

The Value of a Certified Tumor Registrar

Wed, Jun 6, 2018  -  Comments (10)  -   Posted by Tara Lucero

There continues to be confusion surrounding the work of a Certified Tumor Registrar (otherwise known as a CTR or cancer registrar). When others ask, “What do you do?” I am stumped to create an appropriate answer. Do I blurt out, “I’m a cancer registrar” knowing I will get a blank stare or complete silence? Do I say, “Well, where do I begin…” and elaborate on this profound profession? Or do I sit them down to watch CHAMPS Oncology’s 2014 “What is a Cancer Registrar” video?

The truth is, it continues to take time to really understand the role of a certified tumor registrar, which means it takes time to help others understand. Remember – our profession is still relatively new! According to the National Cancer Registrars Association, in the 35 years we’ve been around, only 4,500 individuals have received their CTR degree in the U.S. That’s approximately 130 each year. To put that in context, consider my other profession, nursing, which has been around since the 19th century. There are currently more than 4 million nurses in the nation. And I don’t think nurses have a hard time helping others understand what they do.

So, for a decade, I have put forth effort to not only show my community what I do, but reinforce the value of a certified tumor registrar within the medical industry. And I celebrated when the American Joint Committee on Cancer recognized us by dedicating their 8th Edition Manual to our work! I felt validated and the question, “What do you do?” became much simpler for me to answer…

“I am a Certified Tumor Registrar, a leader in the discovery of cancer and its effects on the world.” 

How did I come to such a powerful response? When you discuss this subject with fellow CTRs your responses can vary as much as abstracting rules (Ha! CTR joke). Some believe they simply plug in data, while others believe they review records and extrapolate required material, which then leads to others doing more work to get it “turned into…what matters.” While those are steps toward the goal, that is not the sum of who we are or what we do.

I believe we are all leaders in our field – aiding physicians in making appropriate choices for the care of their cancer patients. The information we collect allows other professionals to make evidence-based decisions. Without our data, it would be near impossible to create tools such as the National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology, AJCC Staging Guidelines or Oncologic Clinical Research initiatives. The implications of our work are vast and extensive. And I am lucky to work for an organization that supports that mindset by providing cancer registry careers that allow its CTRs to feel inspired and grow each and every day.

Before I wrap up this post, I want to encourage all of my fellow certified tumor registrars to pat yourselves on the back, smile, reflect and be humbly honored by your successes and all that is to come. It is imperative that we continue to learn, study and improve our skills. We are a significant force in the war on cancer and we should be proud of the work we have done these past 35 years!

What makes you most proud to be a certified tumor registrar?

Posted in Cancer Registry


Caitlin Choate said:

1/28/2019 1:06 PM

Thank you for your post about the CTR profession. I am a career changer considering the field and wonder if you could provide some of the pros and cons of the occupation? Thank you for your time.

Tara said:

1/28/2019 8:22 PM

You are welcome and THANK YOU for taking the time to inquire.

The cancer registry profession is immense. There are varying avenues that professionals making career changes can take. It is important to understand the cancer registry has two primary bases, one is hospital and the other is central or state registry. Both of these offer incredible opportunities in the field. To understand more about this, I recommend investigating the National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA) website at - click on the "Education" link.

As for myself, I have been a Certified Tumor Registrar for a decade and would say the pros are that it's challenging, detail-oriented work. It involves a lot of research and is constantly evolving. There are many opportunities for advancement. And you can work in various locations. It is important to have a growth mindset and desire to continuously learn in the profession. There are also a very strong professional networks, such as NCRA.

The cons are: You can be limited by the pros if you are not someone with those attributes. Also, if you work in the central or remote setting there is not direct patient contact.

I made the switch from nursing to becoming a Certified Tumor Registrar and I have no regrets. I wish you much success as you consider changing careers! Thanks again for reading our blog.

Cynthia Stevens said:

3/11/2019 1:01 PM

I am a BSN with more that 30 years of oncology experience - pediatric, breast and gyn cancers. I am looking to utilize this knowledge base as a CTR. I am uncertain about where to start - are the online courses provided by SEERS and NCRA the only courses to take prior to taking the certification or do I need to enroll in a specific college based program?
Who do I need to contact to validate that I am moving in the right direction towards certification? I understand that I need clinical hours as well, and the team here is very anxious for me to join their team. Does that all come together when I register to take the exam?
I am hoping to make the transition to this role within the next 6 months.
Thank you for any information that you can share with me.

Tara said:

3/15/2019 4:09 PM

Thank you for your interest. Your vast background in oncology will no doubt help you in this endeavor. As I stated in a previous response, the cancer registry profession is immense. I would start with National Cancer Registrars Association (NCRA), specifically: At this site, you will find a “Become a Cancer Registrar Brochure” as well as “FAQs on How to Become a Cancer Registrar”.
By starting with the brochure it will lead you down different avenues, such as the “Eligibility Routes”, which designate paths you can take when coming from a previous profession with specific degree. I believe this brochure will guide you on the best next steps. It will save you the time it would take to look in multiple places, which ultimately send you back to NCRA. I wish you the very best on this path and I can promise you it is another level of awesome in the healthcare arena.

Cathy Fogleman said:

5/7/2019 10:08 PM

I'm interested in this field. I'm an oncology certified nurse and have been contemplating trying something new! What was your biggest challenge when you began this change?

Tara said:

5/15/2019 1:02 PM

Thank you for your question, Cathy. The biggest challenge for me was taking off my nursing hat, something I worked so hard to attain, and putting on my cancer detective hat. The wonderful thing about this field is that your oncology nursing background will come in handy when discerning disease process, understanding oncology treatment, utilizing knowledge for staging cancer, and not only reading a chart, but comprehending it. The biggest difference is that you are no longer responsible for a live patient, but rather you become a vital part of breaking down a patient’s cancer from beginning to end. The information that is extrapolated from the disease process will guide the future of cancer, by bringing awareness to cancer centers, hospitals, surgeons, pathologist, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, public health officials, physicians and researchers; the front line so to speak. You will now have the opportunity to help affect the future of cancer treatment because, as CHAMPS Oncology's new motto goes, “Better Data Saves Lives™”.

Brenda said:

7/2/2019 8:21 AM

How do you find the individual charts? Are you given them by an organization or are you calling around for work? Thank you - loved the post!

Tara said:

7/15/2019 4:22 PM

That is a great question. Our profession has a responsibility to the patient and the facility the same as other healthcare professions. There are protocols in place requiring us to be compliant with Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA), state and national regulations, etc., since we are in direct contact with patient information. Each state and hospital also has a policy for CTR’s to be compliant with in regards to patient information. We maintain the same re-certification process assuring that we are aware of any issues requiring our attention. This includes secure and monitored access to a required patient’s record. Since cancer is a reportable disease by national standards, meaning that we are obligated to report any new, ongoing, or recurrent cancer in a patient’s lifetime. Multiple national systems utilize this data including: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) , World Health Organization (WHO) and National Cancer Institute: SEER The information we collect has numerous implications, including further research and monitoring these values to determine other issues, such as if there are specific places that a certain cancer is more prevalent. All individuals can go to these websites to learn more about cancer. The overall goal is to ensure that cancer information is accurate and timely. As CHAMPS motto indicates BETTER DATA SAVES LIVES.

Arvind said:

7/26/2019 10:02 AM

Hi Tara,

Do you know how long it would take to complete a certificate in Cancer Registry Management. NCRA website listed 10 courses to complete the certificate. I am curious how long it would take to complete them?

I am an experienced healthcare technology manager. I was thinking of doing cancer registrar work on a part time basis, remotely. To understand this field better and also augment my income. I see that many companies are now open to this work being done remotely, and part time. It's probably due to high demand and low supply.



Tara said:

8/13/2019 3:37 PM


Thank you for your inquiry. There are various routes that one can take depending on their pre-professional background. I would definitely recommend reaching out to the experts regarding routes, per NCRA brochure it shows or phone (703) 299-6640 Ext 312.

As for the future in cancer registry, that is always changing and enhancing to fit the advancements in both technology and healthcare. It is a field worthy of consideration and I wish you the best with your endeavor.

Thank you for reaching out.

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