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Cancer Registry Accuracy: The Vital Role of Quality Abstracting and Manual Utilization


Cancer registries are vital databases that play a significant role in the healthcare industry. Their primary purpose is to collect, manage, and analyze data related to cancer incidence, mortality, and survival rates. This information is used for various public health purposes, including research, policy-making, and resource allocation. However, the accuracy and reliability of these registries depend heavily on the quality of abstracting and the proper utilization of manuals.

Abstracting is the process of extracting data from medical records and entering it into a registry database. It is a challenging and time-consuming task that requires extensive training and expertise. The quality of abstracting directly affects the accuracy and completeness of the data collected in the registry. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that abstractors follow established protocols and guidelines to maintain the high quality of the data.

In addition, the proper utilization of manuals is essential for maintaining the accuracy of cancer registry data. Manuals provide guidance on the collection and abstraction of data, coding of diagnoses and treatments, and data quality control. Standardized manuals ensure that data is collected and reported consistently across different registries, making comparing data and identifying trends over time easier. The proper abstraction of data using established protocols and the appropriate utilization of manuals are crucial practices that directly impact the integrity of cancer statistics. Ensuring these practices are followed can improve the quality and reliability of cancer registry data, leading to better public health outcomes and informed policy-making.

The Role and Importance of Cancer Registries

Cancer registries are crucial components of the healthcare landscape, compiling comprehensive data on cancer incidence, treatment, and outcomes. Their role is pivotal for understanding cancer trends and directly informing public health policies and cancer research. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, initiated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has been a cornerstone in collecting and publishing cancer incidence and survival data since 1973. SEER registries, covering approximately 48% of the US population, gather extensive data, including patient demographics, tumor characteristics, and survival rates, making it an authoritative source for cancer statistics in the United States. This data is essential for identifying emerging cancer trends, investigating health disparities, and understanding patterns of care in cancer patients.

These registries are crucial in improving patient outcomes and guiding cancer control efforts. By providing detailed data, they enable health officials, researchers, and other professionals to answer critical questions related to cancer incidence and outcomes. This includes evaluating the effectiveness of cancer treatments, detecting cancer earlier, and following up with patients to determine the effectiveness of treatments. Registries like SEER also contribute to identifying environmental risk factors or high-risk behaviors, allowing for preventive measures that can reduce the number of cancer cases and resulting deaths. Local, state, and national cancer agencies use registry data to make impactful public health decisions and efficiently implement screening and prevention programs.

The Abstracting Process in Cancer Registries

The constant evolution of cancer diagnoses and treatments complicates the intricate abstracting process in cancer registries. The CDC outlines how cancer registries work to collect and combine detailed information on cancer patients and their initial treatments. This process is vital to answer critical public health questions, such as identifying late-stage cancer occurrences in specific areas, evaluating the effectiveness of prevention efforts, and understanding the demographics most affected by certain cancer types. These registries analyze the collected data and share insights with cancer control groups and advocates, who then use this information to target their interventions and measure their effectiveness.

The typical abstracting process follows these key steps:

  1. Physical Exam/History:
    • Include patient demographics like age, sex, race, and ethnicity.
    • Document the Chief Complaint (CC) explaining why the patient sought medical care.
    • Include relevant history such as personal or family history of cancers, smoking and alcohol usage, exposure to cancer-causing agents, and chronic health problems.
    • Note any past treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy, if applicable.
    • Detail any relevant genetics or genetic testing results.
  2. X-Rays/Scopes/Scans:
    • Include dates, names, and summaries of results from imaging tests like MRIs, CT scans, etc.
  3. Labs:
    • List each test, its date, and results, including hormone levels or other relevant lab values.
  4. Diagnostic Procedures:
    • Document details of procedures like biopsies, noting the date, procedure name, and findings.
  5. Pathology:
    • Include dates and summaries of pathology reports detailing the extent of the primary tumor, evidence of further spread, margins, and other pertinent information.
  6. Primary Site:
    • State the primary site where the cancer started.
  7. Histology:
    • Note the exact cell type of the cancer.
  8. Treatment:
    • Include details of surgeries, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and participation in clinical trials, as well as dates, treatment types, and response to treatment.

The collection and analysis of data by cancer registries are essential to inform public health policies, guide cancer research, and ultimately improve patient outcomes.

Training and Education for Cancer Registrars

Registrars must update themselves on the latest diagnostic techniques, treatment methods, and staging criteria. They must continually educate themselves in cancer registry practices to maintain data accuracy and use the latest coding guidelines. Registrars must also understand trends and patterns in cancer incidence and outcomes to facilitate public health interventions and resource allocation. Professional development opportunities such as workshops, seminars, and conferences provide valuable insights into best practices, emerging oncology trends, and the latest research findings.

Though changes to manuals are officially documented and distributed, registrars can more easily stay up-to-date and discuss these updates by following these tips:

  • Attending educational conferences
  • View recordings and presentations from any educational sessions they cannot attend
  • Inquire about changes from SEER Inquiry, ask a SEER registrar, or visit CAForum
  • Share any official changes with colleagues and discuss them

Impact of Accurate Cancer Registries on Public Health

The accuracy of cancer registries profoundly impacts public health and policy, playing a crucial role in cancer control efforts by collecting and analyzing detailed information about cancer patients and their treatments. This data is used to answer essential questions, such as identifying areas with higher late-stage cancer diagnoses or populations most likely to develop certain cancer types. The information from these registries informs various groups, including state comprehensive cancer control coalitions, which work to prevent cancer. By identifying trends and disparities, registries help direct prevention efforts and screenings where they are needed most. This contributes to informed decision-making in cancer prevention, treatment, and resource allocation to improve patient outcomes and guide effective public health interventions.


The meticulous process of quality abstracting and the diligent utilization of manuals in cancer registries are fundamental to the healthcare industry. These practices ensure accurate and comprehensive cancer data collection, management, and analysis. This data facilitates crucial public health decisions and guides policy-making and resource allocation. By maintaining high standards in data collection and adhering to evolving guidelines, cancer registries play an indispensable role in enhancing cancer research, treatment strategies, and ultimately improving patient outcomes. Cancer registrars’ concerted efforts and adherence to rigorous protocols are vital in preserving the integrity of cancer statistics and supporting effective public health initiatives.

Enhancing Cancer Registry Accuracy through Strategic Partnerships and Expertise

The recent acquisition of MRA by GeBBS Healthcare Solutions marks a significant advancement in cancer registry accuracy and management. This strategic move combines MRA’s expertise in  cancer registry services with GeBBS’s extensive Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) and Risk Adjustment solutions portfolio. This collaboration is expected to address common mistakes in cancer registry abstracting, such as inaccuracies in data entry, inconsistency in following protocols, and challenges in keeping up with evolving guidelines.

With MRA’s longstanding experience in providing high-quality cancer registry services and GeBBS’ technological prowess in RCM, this partnership aims to streamline cancer data management processes. This integration is anticipated to enhance the accuracy of cancer registries by leveraging advanced technologies, ensuring compliance with standards, and reducing data abstraction errors. Such improvements are vital for the healthcare industry, as accurate cancer registries are instrumental in guiding public health policies, cancer research, and resource allocation, ultimately improving patient outcomes.

As GeBBS and MRA combine their strengths, the healthcare community can expect a more robust and reliable cancer registry system, reinforcing these registries’ vital role in the healthcare ecosystem. Visit gebbs.com today to discover how the combined expertise of GeBBS and MRA has broadened our service offerings in cancer registry, HIM, and healthcare data processes.

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