Telling a Patient’s Cancer Story in 8000 Characters or Less: The Use of Abbreviations in an Abstract

Patricia Hines, CTR Cancer Registry Leave a Comment

Telling a Patient’s Cancer Story in 8000 Characters or Less: The Use of Abbreviations in an Abstract

The daily struggle is real for cancer registrars with each abstract on how to stretch 1000 characters per text box while reporting a patient’s cancer story.  Eight thousand characters may sound like a lot until you start typing away. How many times did you focus on typing the patient’s information into a text box just to find out you already reached your 1000-character limit and you just been exercising your little fingers. 

The use of abbreviations in the medical field has become quite a common practice. Not only does it speed up the process of writing in a patient’s medical record by physicians, nurses, techs, etc., but also helps the reader to decipher another person’s handwriting. Although this sounds great to both the reader and the writer, the issue lies in the misinterpretation of what the writer was intending to say. In the medical field for example, different fields of medicine may have different meanings for the same abbreviation and therefore the reader from one field may misinterpret a diagnosis, treatment, or more. This is turn can lead to other issues for a patient, another department’s treatment orders, and more. Abbreviations are most effective when both the reader and the writer share the same meaning for a set of abbreviations.   

Within the medical world there is no concrete set of abbreviations that everyone must follow, but this is not so in the world of Cancer Registry. NAACCR established a list of recommended abbreviations, known specifically as “The NAACCR Recommended Abbreviations Listings,” that are to be used by cancer registrars, researchers, and other organizations to communicate and interpret a patient’s cancer story. This set of abbreviations helps eliminate any confusion between the writer of the story and the reader. 

A cancer registrar uses this list of abbreviations to abstract a large amount of information into a limited sized text box, while not omitting pertinent information needed by the researcher or organization receiving the information. In turn, the reader (the researcher or other organization) is able to interpret all the information submitted exactly the way it was abstracted while not affecting the outcome of a study or statistics used by many other professions. 

The limited number of characters in a text field and the use of abbreviations has many other benefits from reducing productivity amongst registrars in an organization, to cost saving computer storage needed by a facility. Another cost saving measure for a facility is the amount of time it takes to submit data has lessened which in turn improves productivity within the registry as well. 

This abbreviation list, that consists of over 500 words and terms along with their abbreviation or symbols is compiled into two lists that can be found in “Appendix G: Recommended Abbreviations for Abstractors” section of the NAACCR data dictionary, version 22 in the NAACCR “Version 22 Data Standards and Data Dictionary (Volume II) website. (NAACCR

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