A nurse navigator may be a licensed nurse practitioner or a registered nurse with at least a 2-year nursing degree.

An oncology nurse navigator, such as a breast cancer nurse navigator, is defined by the Oncology Nursing Society as, “a professional RN with oncology-specific clinical knowledge who offers individualized assistance to patients, families, and caregivers to help overcome healthcare system barriers.”

As the title suggests, a nurse navigator is someone you can hire to help you navigate care. A nurse navigator can also advocate for you, help you communicate your care needs to medical professionals, and generally assist you with understanding your treatment and next steps.

It’s similar to hiring a private tutor. You’ll benefit from having one-on-one time with a healthcare professional. They’ll help you:

  • feel supported and heard
  • understand your options
  • manage your treatment plan
  • find supportive resources

A breast cancer navigator is an integral part of your healthcare team. Breast cancer navigators are knowledgeable about breast diseases and well versed in explaining the advantages and disadvantages of various treatments without including their opinions.

The decision of how to proceed is ultimately yours, but your nurse navigator can help break down complicated matters and provide educational material so you can make the right choice for yourself.

They’ll help you effectively talk with other members of your care team and make it easier to communicate with the healthcare specialists involved in your care. A nurse navigator can be a sounding board and a smart resource for you during the breast cancer experience.

A breast cancer navigator can often identify barriers to your care as well. Whether related to cost constraints or reduced access to the nurse navigator, they’ll help give you the tools and skills you need.

Breastcare.org sums up the role of a breast cancer navigator: “The role of the Breast Health Specialist/Navigator is to address both the art and the science of breast health care and redefines the patient’s experience.”

Can they help with managing treatments and appointments?

A breast cancer navigator can help you schedule and coordinate appointments with various healthcare specialists.

If you wish, they can help you prepare for your appointments to maximize your time with other healthcare professionals on your team. This can also ensure that you get answers to all your questions and concerns.

In addition, a breast cancer navigator can help you manage side effects and secure extra support during treatments.

Will I be able to communicate with my breast cancer navigator whenever I need to?

Breast cancer navigators, including metastatic breast cancer (MBC) navigators, at hospitals and institutions may deal with a large number of patients. Because of this, they sometimes have limited availability.

A private MBC navigator may be more readily available to offer support, education, and explanation.

Part of the role of a nurse navigator is to help you learn self-care skills.

How will a breast cancer navigator work with the rest of my healthcare team?

A breast cancer navigator starts by offering support to you and your family after a diagnosis is confirmed. Strong emotions often come along with such a diagnosis, and a breast cancer navigator is prepared to help you manage the next steps.

They can also help you express your goals and objectives and then plan a pathway forward to meet those goals.

Their primary responsibilities are to:

  • support you during treatment
  • answer questions
  • connect you with support services
  • provide education around breast health

Their work may involve:

  • coordinating your care with the healthcare specialists on your care team
  • providing education about the disease, treatments, and available services and resources
  • providing emotional support
  • helping with financial and insurance-related issues

Nurse navigators are there to support you throughout all stages of your care, beginning with your diagnosis. Part of a nurse navigator’s job is to make sure you understand the suggested course of physician-recommended treatment.

They can explain side effects and answer any questions you and your family may have. Like a caregiver, a nurse navigator is attentive to your educational, emotional, and social needs.

Can my nurse navigator help me find support groups?

Breast cancer isn’t uniform and doesn’t affect everyone the same way.

A navigator, whether a general breast cancer navigator or an MBC navigator, will assess your specific needs and connect you with the appropriate resources to meet those needs. If you want the emotional support of a group, they can certainly connect you with one.

Can a breast cancer navigator help me navigate my healthcare and finances?

The financial burden of cancer can be as much of a side effect of treatment as the physical effects.

A breast cancer navigator can help you and your family by identifying resources and connecting you to them. These resources may include help with insurance, billing, and more.

What types of resources will a breast cancer navigator point me to?

Each person’s experience is unique. Depending on your needs, a breast cancer navigator may point you toward:

  • emotional support services such as support groups and peer-to-peer connections
  • treatment-related support services such as resources for side effect management and nutrition help
  • financial and insurance resources such as insurance advocates and billing specialists
  • integrative and complementary treatment resources such as acupuncture and natural supplements

Can they help my family?

Breast cancer navigators have access to a variety of supportive resources for families of people with breast cancer. After looking at your family’s needs, a navigator will provide educational and supportive resources.

They can also provide emotional support.

A breast cancer nurse navigator has a degree in nursing. Trained to coordinate your clinical, educational, and supportive needs, breast cancer navigators are like caregivers in a way. They are not the ones offering treatment plans, but they are the ones talking you through them and answering questions.

A nurse navigator doesn’t provide medical advice or recommendations. They leave their opinions out of it and are there to give you information so you can make informed decisions about your healthcare and course of treatment.

Their primary role is to support, educate, and coordinate services to meet your physical and emotional needs after diagnosis and during treatment.

Registered nurses who are not working as navigators work closely with doctors to provide care and facilitate treatment.

An oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer. Oncologists are sometimes called cancer specialists. They are incredibly knowledgeable about cancer, especially the type of cancer they have chosen to specialize in treating.

Unlike a nurse navigator, who does not offer a comprehensive treatment plan but rather provides information on the plan, an oncologist provides specific recommendations on treating cancer.

A breast surgeon or surgical oncologist performs surgery to treat breast cancer. A radiation oncologist uses radiation to treat cancer. Medical oncologists use chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and other medicinal treatments.

Many large hospitals and community cancer centers will provide a navigator at the time of your diagnosis. But if there isn’t a navigator program at your treatment center, you can find one through a nonprofit or may choose to hire a private navigator.

A private navigator plays the same role as an institutional navigator. They provide help with logistical, educational, and emotional aspects of your journey.

The American Cancer Society has a patient navigator program. You can call 1-800-227-2345 to get matched with a navigator who can support you throughout your diagnosis and treatment.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation also has a patient navigator program.

A breast cancer nurse navigator can be a key part of your breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. They serve as a consistent presence as you navigate this challenging time.

While your nurse navigator won’t offer any opinions or advice on next steps, they will help you understand doctors’ recommendations, prepare for side effects, and even help you navigate complicated costs associated with care.

Dana Hutson is the founder and president of Cancer Champions, LLC, a company that helps individuals and families gain clarity in the confusion of a cancer diagnosis.

She compassionately consults, educates, and facilitates conversations and decisions for individuals and their loved ones as they navigate a complicated healthcare system. Her goal is to empower them to make life-altering decisions with confidence.