At the core of the nation’s anti-cancer efforts, cancer registrars are data collection and management
experts with the training, specialized skills, and eye for detail to provide the high quality data required
in all avenues of cancer statistics and research. Learn more...
Download the Brochure: The Cancer Registry and
1. What is a Cancer Registry?
2. The History of Cancer Registries
3. Why Maintain a Cancer Registry?
4. What Information is Maintained
in the Cancer Registry?
5. How Are These Data Used?
6. Is the Information Kept Confidential?
7. What is a "Cancer Registrar"?
8. How Does One Become a Cancer Registrar?
9. How Does One Become Certified?
10. What is the Future for Cancer Registrars?
11. Is There a Professional Organization Available for the Cancer Registrar?
1. WHAT IS A CANCER REGISTRY?
A cancer registry is an information system designed for the collection, management, and analysis of data on
persons with the diagnosis of a malignant or neoplastic disease (cancer). Cancer registries can be
classified into three general types:
- Healthcare institution registries: maintain data on all patients diagnosed
- and/or treated for cancer at their facility. Healthcare facilities
- report cancer cases to the central or state cancer registry as required by law.
- Central registries: population-based registries that maintain data on all cancer patients
within certain geographical areas.
- Special purpose registries:maintain data on a particular type of cancer, such as brain
2. THE HISTORY OF CANCER REGISTRIES
1926 — First hospital registry at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, CT
1935 & 1946 — First central cancer registries (Connecticut and California)
1956 — American College of Surgeons requires a cancer registry for approved cancer programs.
1971 — National Cancer Act budgets monies to the National Cancer Institute for research, detection and
treatment of cancer.
1973 — Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program of NCI establishes the first national
1992 — Congress establishes a National Program of Cancer Registries (Public Law 102-515)
1993 — State laws make cancer a reportable disease
3. WHY MAINTAIN A CANCER REGISTRY?
- Local, state and national cancer agencies use registry data in defined areas to make important public
health decisions that maximize the effectiveness of limited public health funds, such as the placement of
- Cancer registries are valuable research tools for those interested in the etiology, diagnosis and
treatment of cancer.
- Fundamental research on the
epidemiology of cancer is initiated using the accumulated data.
- Lifetime follow-up is an important aspect of the cancer registry. Current patient follow-up serves as a
reminder to physicians and patients to schedule regular clinical examinations and provides accurate survival
4. WHAT INFORMATION IS MAINTAINED IN THE CANCER REGISTRY?
- Demographic Information: Age, gender, race/ethnicity, birthplace and residence.
- Medical History: Physical findings, screening information, occupation and any history of a
- Diagnostic Findings: Types, dates and results of procedures used to diagnose cancer.
- Cancer information: Primary site, cell type and extent of disease.
- Cancer Therapy: Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone or immunotherapy.
- Follow-up: Annual information concerning treatment, recurrence, and patient status is updated
to maintain accurate surveillance information.
5. HOW ARE THESE DATA USED?
- Evaluate patient outcome, quality of life, and satisfaction issues and implement procedures for
- Provide follow-up information for cancer surveillance
- Calculate survival rates by various data items
- Provide information for cancer program activities
- Analyze referral patterns
- Allocate resources at the health care facility, the community, region or state level
- Develop educational programs for health care providers, patients and the general public
- Report cancer incidence as required under state law
- Evaluate efficacy of treatment modalities
6. IS THE INFORMATION KEPT CONFIDENTIAL?
Confidentiality of patient identifying information and related medical data is strictly maintained.
Aggregate data are analyzed and published without patient
7. WHAT IS A "CANCER REGISTRAR"?
Cancer registrars are data management experts who report cancer statistics
for various healthcare agencies. Registrars work closely with physicians,
administrators, researchers, and health care planners to provide support
for cancer program development, ensure compliance of reporting standards,
and serve as a valuable resource for cancer information with the ultimate
goal of preventing and controlling cancer. The cancer registrar is involved
in managing and analyzing clinical cancer information for the purpose
of education, research, and outcome measurement.
The primary responsibility of the cancer registrar is to ensure that timely, accurate, and complete data
is incorporated and maintained on all types of cancer diagnosed and/or treated within an institution or
other defined population. Information is entered into the database manually and through database linkage and
Cancer registrars bridge the information gap by capturing a complete summary of the patient's disease
from diagnosis through their lifetime. The information
is not limited to the episodic information contained in the health care facility record. The summary or
abstract is an ongoing account of the cancer patient's history, diagnosis, treatment, and current status.
In addition to managing and reporting cancer data, registrars serve in multiple other professional
activities. Cancer registrars participate in cancer program, institution, and community benefit activities
as part of the active
leadership structure. Registrars provide benchmarking services, monitor quality of care and clinical
practice guidelines, assess patterns of care and referrals, and monitor adverse outcomes including mortality
and co-morbidity. Cancer registrars can provide consultative services on many issues including registry
management and program standards.
8. HOW DOES ONE BECOME A CANCER REGISTRAR?
Traditionally, cancer registrars were trained on the job. Today, find an
Accredited Formal Education Program programs at colleges around the country teach cancer data
management. Curricula include, but are not limited to, cancer and its
management, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, biostatistics
and epidemiology, cancer data abstracting, database record management,
cancer program management, and cancer registry procedures. In addition
to formal college courses, training is available from programs that vary
from one to two weeks in duration and provide an intensive training experience
in one or more aspects of registry operations. Training courses combined
with on-the-job learning remains a viable route for a career in the cancer
9. HOW DOES ONE BECOME CERTIFIED?
The National Cancer Registrars Association's (NCRA) Council on Certification
administers an examination during two 2-week testing windows.
Candidates must meet eligibility requirements that include
a combination of experience in the cancer registry field and educational
background. After successfully passing the certification examination,
the Certified Tumor Registrar (CTR®) credential is awarded. Persons
who have successfully completed the certification examination have demonstrated
that they have met or exceeded the standard level of experience and technical
knowledge required for effective cancer data management. To maintain a
certified status, the current continuing education requirements of NCRA
must be met. The required continuing education and training keeps the
CTR abreast of new developments in the field of oncology and registry
data management. Thus the registrar's knowledge and skills are continuously
enhanced. For more information concerning certification, visit the NCRA
web site at: www.ctrexam.org or
10. WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR CANCER REGISTRARS?
The evidenced-based medicine of today recognizes the skills and abilities of the cancer registrar. The
increase in the number and types of health care facilities, central registries, consulting firms and
registry software companies make the demand for qualified cancer registrars greater than ever. There is
tremendous potential for growth in government agencies, insurance, pharmaceutical and other health care
industries as accurate, timely data increasingly impacts cancer control efforts. Cancer registrars who
possess management and administrative skills, knowledge of medical sciences, programming, database
management, data retrieval and analysis will find a ready market for those skills.
11. IS THERE A PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION AVAILABLE FOR THE CANCER REGISTRAR?
The National Cancer Registrars
Association (NCRA), chartered in May 1974 and incorporated in October 1976, is a non-profit,
professional organization. NCRA promotes accurate, timely data and advances professional development. The
purpose of NCRA is to provide educational opportunities for continuous learning; advance knowledge of all
new technologies that influence cancer data; establish standards of education; promote the value of a
certified registry professional; and support professional standards and ethics. Nearly 5,000 members
represent the various types of institutions that have an interest in cancer management.
NCRA sponsors an invaluable annual conference offering
educational sessions designed to improve cancer registry staff knowledge and professional
expertise. In addition to the national organization, state and local associations
conduct meetings and workshops for cancer registry professionals. Satellite
teleconferences also provide educational opportunities.