Working to End Cancer

By Lydia Dishman

During October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, pink can be seen everywhere from lapel ribbons to football players’ sneakers. Between treatment advances, earlier detection through screening, and increased awareness, breast cancer death rates have been going down since 1990. In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.

But there’s still reason to fight: about one in eight women in the United States (12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to Fortunately, there are many people working behind the scenes “racing for the cure” as well as finding ways to prevent the disease and ease treatments.

Want to do more to end breast cancer than just wear pink? Here are ten jobs that work directly with patients, their families and advocates for the cure:

Medical Laboratory Aide – Median Annual Salary $26,500

This job allows you to get into the healthcare field on the ground floor. Lab workers spend a lot of time on their feet, observing specimens through diagnostic equipment. The usual requirement for an entry-level position as a clinical laboratory aide is a two-year associate’s degree with a concentration in medical technology or biology. It’s also possible to qualify for some jobs with a combination of education and on-the-job training from a hospital or a medical technology program at a technical college.

Medical Research Technician – Median Annual Salary $33,000

Basic research in biological sciences helps develop solutions to health problems and improve treatments. Medical research techs mostly work in hospital or private industry laboratories, often exploring new areas of study. Though a Ph.D. is usually required for independent research, an associate’s degree is all you need to get your foot in the door for some jobs in applied research or product development.  

Cancer Tumor Registrar – Median Annual Salary $38,600

It only sounds scary. Cancer registrars gather and document information about cancer cases that researchers, healthcare providers, and public policymakers use to fight cancer. From looking at every diagnosis of cancer documented at their healthcare facility, registrars enter only those cases that receive a first course of treatment at that institution. Attention to detail is a must, but an associate’s degree will qualify you for this vital work.

Radiology Technologist – Median Annual Salary $42,900

Here’s another job that only requires a two-year associate’s degree to qualify. Radiologic technicians perform diagnostic imaging examinations like x-rays, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that assist doctors in diagnosing potential cancers. You’ll need to be in good shape though, as technicians have to stand for long periods of time and may have to lift or turn disabled patients or help adjust them to administer tests at their bedside.

Charity Fundraiser – Median Annual Salary $45,300

Want to help breast cancer patients without working in the medical field? There are plenty of opportunities for those who work to raise funds in nonprofit organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Fundraisers contact community members, schools, churches and businesses to raise awareness as well as money to fund research, treatment, support groups and special events for survivors and their families.

Mammography Technologist – Median Annual Salary $51,900

Mammography technologists use low dose x-ray systems to produce images of the breast to help doctors identify tumors that could be cancerous. Most mammography techs work regular 40-hour weeks and some can work part-time for several facilities. Formal training programs in radiography include certificate tracks, associate’s degrees, or bachelor's degrees. Certifications typically take about two years. Experience and additional training can help staff technologists become specialists.

Radiation Therapist – Median Annual Salary $62,000

Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer either by itself or in combination with chemotherapy or surgery. As part of a medical radiation oncology team, the therapist helps develop a treatment plan. The therapist is involved at all stages from using an x-ray or computer tomography scan to find the tumor, to positioning the patient to receive radiation, to taking care of the patient’s emotional well-being. A four-year college degree is required for this position. Because emergencies rarely happen in this field, therapists normally work only during the day.

Oncology Nurse – Median Annual Salary $64,700

This job is for those who want to take care of cancer patients directly. An oncology nurse is a registered nurse with a specialization in cancer care who treats and educates patients about the condition, and provides advice and emotional support to the patient and their family. From administering drugs, starting IVs and taking blood to consulting with doctors on treatment plans, oncology nurses are needed at all stages of patient care. A bachelor’s degree is required from an accredited nursing school.

Oncology Pharmacist – Median Annual Salary $105,000

Administering drugs to cancer patients is the primary responsibility in this career but pharmacists are becoming more involved in counseling patients and planning drug therapy programs for them. To become an oncology pharmacist, plan to graduate from an accredited college, which usually takes about six years. Pharmacists must also pass a series of examinations to be licensed. All that work pays off as salaries are generally high, but some pharmacists –especially at entry-level– are required to work nights, weekends, and holidays.

Oncologist – Median Annual Salary $200,000

At the top of the cancer treatment pyramid of workers is the oncologist, the doctor with a specialty in treating the disease. This career has the most demanding set of requirements including four years of college, four years of medical school, and 3 to 8 years of internship and residency. Many physicians and surgeons work long, irregular hours and according to the BLS, 43 percent of all physicians and surgeons worked more than 50 hours a week. While on call, oncologists will deal with many patients' concerns over the phone and make emergency visits to hospitals. 

Source: All salary data is provided by Salaries listed are median, annual salaries or median, hourly rates for full-time employees with 5-8 years of experience. Salaries listed include all bonuses, commissions or profit sharing.

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