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Types of Cancer Navigators

Clinical navigators

These navigators are trained health care professionals. Their roles can depend on their training and background.

Oncology nurse navigators

Oncology nurse navigators are registered nurses with knowledge about cancer care. Oncology nurse navigators may:

  • Work with the cancer care team to coordinate patient care.
  • Help keep track of how the person with cancer is doing.
  • Help manage symptoms and side effects.
  • Help people understand their cancer, testing, treatment, and what they might expect during and after treatment.
  • Answer questions about cancer and cancer treatment.

Oncology social work navigators

Oncology social work navigators are social workers who also know about cancer care and social and mental health issues. Oncology social work navigators can:

  • Help identify a person’s social and emotional needs.
  • Provide treatment services or resources to meet those needs.
  • Answer questions about cancer and cancer treatment.

Non-clinical navigators 

These navigators get special training but are not health care professionals.

Oncology patient navigators

  • Might work for an organization or may be volunteers.
  • Can help with non-clinical information and resources.
  • May be trained to help at a certain time or with a specific group. For example, they might focus on getting more people screened for cancer, helping set up tests and appointments for someone newly diagnosed with cancer, or setting people up with needed resources during treatment.   

Oncology navigation support volunteers

  • Provide non-clinical support through a healthcare or community organization.
  • Are trained to provide information, resources, and support, and are not paid for these services.
  • May also have had cancer themselves or as a caregiver.
  • Can provide support in-person, by phone, on-line.

Cancer site-specific navigators support people with a specific type of cancer. They most often are oncology nurse navigators. 

Financial navigators help people with cancer understand what their health insurance plan may cover and what they will have to pay out of pocket expenses. They may also help people set up payment plans and find ways to lower treatment costs so they can get the care they need.

Clinical trials navigators provide information and help ease concerns about being in a clinical trial. They can help answer questions, arrange transportation, and help with insurance issues as needed.

Population-specific navigators focus on the needs of underserved groups of people to make it easier for them to get cancer screening and care. These navigators are often non-clinical and come from the community they are serving to help build trust.

Pediatric/adolescent/young adult navigators focus on the needs of children, teenagers, or young adults with cancer and their families.

Cancer screening navigators focus on the needs of people getting screened for certain types of cancer, such as lung, breast, or colorectal cancer. They work to get more people screened and help those who may have cancer get further testing and the information they need.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Patient Navigation. Cdc.gov. Accessed at https://www.cdc.gov/screenoutcancer/patient-navigation.htm on June 12, 2023.

Franklin E, Burke S, Dean M, Johnston D, Nevidjon B & Booth LS.  Oncology navigation standards of professional practice. J Oncol Navig Surviv. 2022; 13.

Natale-Pereira A, Enard KR, Nevarez L, Jones LA. The role of patient navigators in eliminating health disparities. Cancer. 2011;117(15 Suppl):3543-3552.

National Cancer Institute. Financial navigator. Cancer.gov. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/financial-navigator on June 9, 2023.

National Cancer Institute. The Patient Navigator Research Program (PNRP). Cancer.gov. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/pnrp-brochure.pdf on June 12, 2023.

Wells KJ, Wightman P, Cobian Aguilar R, et al. Comparing clinical and nonclinical cancer patient navigators: A national study in the United States. Cancer. 2022;128 Suppl 13(Suppl 13):2601-2609. 

Last Revised: June 20, 2023

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