Become a Cancer Registrar

Cancer registrars are data information specialists that capture a complete history, diagnosis, treatment, and health status for every cancer patient in the U.S. The data provide essential information to researchers, healthcare providers, and public health officials to better monitor and advance cancer treatments, conduct research, and improve cancer prevention and screening programs. 

Information on how to become a cancer registrar is outlined below. If you have questions, please contact Mary Maul, Manager of Education Programs at 703-299-6640 Ext. 314 or e-mail her at mmaul@ncra-usa.org.

How does one become a cancer registrar?

Traditionally, cancer registrars were trained on the job. Today, formal education programs at community colleges around the country teach cancer data management. Curricula include cancer and its management, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, biostatistics and epidemiology, cancer data abstracting, database record management, cancer program management, cancer registry procedures, informatics, and much more. 

What is the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR®) credential?

The Certified Tumor Registrar credential demonstrates a requisite knowledge and professional competence needed within the cancer registry. It is nationally recognized in the recruitment and retention of registry personnel. NCRA’s certification board—the Council on Certification—develops and administers the CTR exam. Over 5,000 individuals have attained the CTR credential. Hospitals accredited by the Commission on Cancer require all case abstracting be performed by a CTR.  

What are the benefits of having the CTR credential?

Most hospitals and central cancer registries require their employees to hold the CTR credential. Individuals may be hired without having the CTR credential, though most employment opportunities do ask for it. 

How does one earn the CTR credential?

The first step is to determine eligibility. Requirements include education and experience in the cancer registry field. Review the CTR Exam Eligibility Chart for details. Need your individual eligibility to be reviewed? Complete the CTR Exam Eligibility Request Form and submit it as noted on the form. Please allow 6-8 weeks to process. 

Once eligibility requirements are met, candidates can take the exam during one of the three, three-week long testing periods held annually. Applications must be submitted by the deadline noted for the desired exam date. Test questions are prepared by Subject Matter Experts (SME) in the cancer registry profession from diverse backgrounds and job descriptions. The CTR Exam is composed of 180, multiple-choice questions, based on seven Domains of Practice:

  • Casefinding
  • Data Quality Assurance
  • Abstracting/Coding
  • Analysis and Data Usage
  • Follow-up
  • Registry Organization and Operations
  • Cancer Program Accreditations

One-hundred and eighty questions comprise the closed-book portion of the exam; forty-five questions comprise the open book portion. The open-book portion will focus on coding and staging. Candidates are allowed four hours to complete the two-part exam. The exam is delivered via computer‐based testing centers on behalf of the Council on Certification.  

There are over 200 testing locations throughout the United States. Candidates receiving a passing score will be entitled to use “CTR” after their name and will receive a certificate from the Council on Certification. To maintain a certified status, a credentialed professional must complete 20 hours of continuing education credits every two years, plus pay an annual fee. 

How does one get started?

Whether you are beginning your career or are a seasoned professional seeking a new challenge, NCRA is here to help. NCRA provides training and educational opportunities to assist you in crafting a successful career in cancer registry management and to earn and maintain the CTR credential. NCRA accredits formal education programs, which have undergone an extensive review by NCRA. Many are available online, offering distance learning options. Learn more about NCRA-Accredited Formal Education Programs. Students who have successfully completed an NCRA-Accredited Formal Education Program have met the eligibility requirements to take the CTR Exam.  

How does one prepare to take the CTR Exam?

NCRA offers a host of tools to prepare candidates to take the CTR Exam, including a live online CTR Exam prep workshop; archived CTR Exam prep webinars; an intensive one-day, in-person CTR Exam prep training at the annual conference; a CTR Exam online practice test; and the NCRA Study Guide for the CTR Exam. Learn more!   

How does one maintain the CTR credential?

A credentialed professional must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) credits every two years to maintain the CTR credential. NCRA’s Center for Cancer Registry Education is a Learning Management System designed to provide easy access to high-quality educational programming. The Website offers a variety of education products and services that will allow registrars to tailor their training and manage CE credits. Visit the site for more details.