Nurse practitioners can diagnose breast abnormalities just as well as surgeons can, according to a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing (2010 May 13. [Epub ahead of print]).

Over a 13-month study period, researchers at Glamorgan Hospital in Wales, UK, compared the findings of 126 women, 20-78 years old, who were examined by a nurse practitioner and consultant surgeon and referred to a symptomatic breast disease clinic. For the study, all the assessments were conducted by the same nurse practitioner and consultant surgeon.

Researchers found that the diagnostic accuracy shown by the nurse practitioner, together with the scans she requested, compared favorably with those for the consult breast surgeon. Specifically, they produced exactly the same results in 92% of the cases. 37 discrete lumps were discovered in 35 women, with the consultant surgeon missing two breast cysts and the nurse practitioner missing only one.

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Furthermore, there was no difference between the mammography request ordered by the nurse and surgeon, but with regard to ultrasounds, the nurse ordered three extra scans and the surgeon ordered four extra.

“This study aimed to test the theory that trained nurse practitioners can perform an important role in assessing new patients in breast cancer clinic to ensure that they are seen as quickly as possible,” the authors noted. “We believe that the nurse practitioners can be a valuable asset to the multidisciplinary breast team if they receive special training, consultant support and are subject to regular comparative audits.”