What is Oncology Social Work

Edited by Linda Greeff


This document was based on the Standards of Practice document  of the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW)  found on their website http://www.aosw.org/

“The scope of practice in oncology social work as identified in the Association of Oncology Social Work (AOSW) Standards of Practice (1998) includes:

  1. Services to cancer survivors, families, and caregivers through clinical practice providing comprehensive psychosocial services and programs through all phases of the cancer experience.
  2. Services to institutions and agencies to increase their knowledge of the psychosocial, social, cultural and spiritual factors that impact coping with cancer and its effects, and to insure provision of quality psychosocial programs and care.
  3. Services to the community through education, consultation, research and volunteering to utilize, promote or strengthen the community services, programs, and resources available to meet the needs of cancer survivors.
  4. Services to the profession to support the appropriate orientation, supervision and evaluation of clinical social workers in oncology; participate in and promote student training and professional education in oncology social work; and advance knowledge through clinical and other research. “

Oncology social workers are knowledgeable about cancer and about the psychosocial and other effects of disease, treatment, and survivorship. They generally have a master’s degree and often have experience and training in oncology and other life-threatening illnesses. Oncology social workers have goals in each area of practice and carry out critical functions to achieve those goals.

Common goals and functions.

  1. Services to Survivors, Families, and Caregivers

The goals of clinical practice with survivors, families, and caregivers are:

  • Assisting cancer patients and their families in their  adaptation to  the cancer diagnosis and its effects in order to help  them maintain or improve quality of life.
  • Assisting people living with cancer in navigating through health care systems to help them achieve quality care.
  • Mobilizing new or existing family, system, and community resources to provide social and emotional support to cancer survivors.
  • Conducting research to advance clinical knowledge or evaluate practice effectiveness.
  • Advocating with, or on behalf of, survivors, families, and caregivers to address their needs, or for policies and programs that will benefit them.

The functions of clinical practice are:

  • Use of high risk screening criteria to identify survivors and families in need of Social Work services.
  • Completion of a psychosocial assessment to determine survivor and family’s strengths and needs relative to coping effectively with cancer diagnosis, treatment and follow-up cares.
  • Development of a multidisciplinary care plan with survivor and family input and based on mutual goals.
  • Use of a range of therapeutic and other interventions, including supportive counseling, group work, and education to address issues in each phase of the illness.
  • Provision of pre-admission, transfer, and discharge planning.
  • Provision of case management services.
  • Provision of direct assistance to meet financial, transportation, lodging and other needs.
  • Advocacy to remove barriers to quality care, to address gaps in service, to help survivors and families secure the protection of existing laws, and to work for any changes needed to policies, programs and legislation.
  • Involvement conducting and publishing research to advance knowledge about the impact of cancer, refine interventions, and evaluate practice outcomes.
  1. Services to Institutions and Agencies

The goals of practice in providing to institutions and agencies are:

  • To ensure that the agencies and institutions are responsive to the needs of both individual cancer survivors, families and caregivers, as well as groups.
  • To contribute the multidisciplinary effort to provide quality medical psychosocial care to oncology survivors.
  • To assist social work colleagues and members of other disciplines to manage the stress of  working in the oncology sector.

The functions necessary to such services are:

  • Education and consultation to professionals and staff regarding the biopsychosocial, environmental, spiritual, and cultural factors affecting cancer care.
  • Collaboration with other professionals in the delivery of quality psychosocial care, education and research.
  • Recording, statistical reporting, and evaluation to improve services, assist in identifying gaps in services and programs, and assure quality care.
  • Development of programs and resources to address the needs of cancer survivors.
  • Provision of support services to aid in stress management.
  1. Services to the Community

The goals of oncology social work practice related to the community are:

  • To assure that community programs and resources address and are responsive to the needs of cancer survivors, families, and caregivers.
  • To provide oncology social work expertise to communities as they work to assist cancer survivors.

The functions of oncology social workers working with communities are:

  • Education of communities to increase awareness of the psychosocial needs of cancer survivors, families, and caregivers.
  • Collaboration with community agencies to remove barriers to cancer prevention, screening and early detection, and access to care.
  • Collaboration in the development of special programs and resources to address community-based needs.
  • Consultation with cancer NGO’s across South Africa , such as the members of the Cancer Alliance of South Africa https://www.canceralliance.co.za/ A collective group of cancer NPOs and cancer advocates working together to effect change for all South African adults and children affected by cancer and to provide community education and develop programs to benefit cancer survivors.



  1. Services to the Profession

The goals of providing services to the profession are:

  • To assure that oncology social workers have the necessary knowledge, skills, resources, time, funding, and support to deliver quality psychosocial services to all cancer survivors, families and caregivers.

The functions of oncology social workers working to serve the profession are:

  • Teaching oncology social work trainees in the classroom or in clinical settings.
  • Orientation, supervision and evaluation of practitioners in oncology social work.
  • Consultation with colleagues via telephone networking, conferences, or on listservs.
  • Presentation of or participation in continuing professional education specific to oncology social work practice.
  • Publishing research findings and clinical observations.
  • Participation in oncology and social work organizations across the world.

Helpful resources the SAOSWF recommend to  cancer patients are the following http://saoswf.org.za

ASCO website

Types of cancer and lots of support and survivorship information


MacMillan Cancer info

Types of cancer


Types of Chemo


Other support info


Survivorship care plans



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