Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear, but it’s a diagnoses approximately 150,000 people will receive in 2022.

According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer accounts for nearly eight percent of all new cancer diagnoses. And while it is particularly dangerous when caught at a later stage, routine screening with a colonoscopy can help catch early signs of cancerous and even precancerous changes.

With March’s designation as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, nurses everywhere can help remind their patients of the potentially life-saving benefits of prevention and early detection.

No matter what specialty you are in, you can help spread awareness about colorectal cancer with the people you treat every day.

Remind patients to get a colonoscopy

In the absence of a family history of CRC or other diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, all of which raise the lifetime risk for CRC, most people only need a colonoscopy every 10 years starting in the mid 40s. According to the American Cancer Society, people with an average risk of colorectal cancer can talk with their healthcare team to determine the best screening method for their personal health. Some people may be able to choose a stool-based test while others will decide they need a colonoscopy.


Talk about prevention

Screening is often thought as something to catch colorectal cancer early, and in some cases, removing any precancerous findings can even help prevent it. The Colorectal Cancer Alliance has great tips, including screening, to help prevent this cancer. Other prevention strategies include a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is known to help prevent or decrease the chances of developing certain cancers including colorectal as are cutting out smoking and reducing drinking alcohol. A plant-based diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes packs in nutrients and fiber–all of which offer protective health benefits. In particular, patients who enjoy red meats or processed meats like hot dogs, sausages, or deli meats should know those foods can up the risk of colorectal cancer.

See also
In the Spotlight: Dr. Kahlil Demonbreun


Give patients the facts about risk

Guiding  patients to find out more about their family history, to the extent they are able, can help show familial patterns of colorectal cancer. While many people who have a family history of colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps will not go on to develop the disease, some do. And many people who are eventually diagnosed have no meaningful or known history of anything that would indicate a higher risk. But remind your patients that it’s worthwhile to know the diseases that are present in their immediate and extended families. For those who aren’t able to find out anything about their family history, asking their primary healthcare about genetic counseling and screening could help.

Helping patients become aware of colorectal cancer and the importance of prevention and screening is something healthcare providers can do for their patients. People often forget about the things they can do or put off getting screening tests. Reminding them about why it’s so important can help–and may even save a life.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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