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.
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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a direct impact on GI nursing and SGNA has resources to help nurses. While many initially thought COVID-19 was an acute respiratory virus, the year has revealed many patients presenting with severe gastrointestinal symptoms, some of which persist long after the initial recovery. GI nurses are also managing the safety concerns for themselves and their patients. And many GI procedures were delayed due to the pandemic’s impact.
Within this nursing specialty, gastrointestinal nurses can find many subsets of the field that interest them. There are opportunities for nurses to work with pediatric patients and the elderly. They can focus on cancer treatment and care or on endoscopy and surgical practices and procedures. And they are able to work with patients in inpatient and outpatient settings for conditions including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis or GERD and other digestive disorders.
As a GI nurse, you may even opt to pursue an academic or research role to help find new treatments and discoveries to help GI patients. These options allow nurses to work in an area that really interests them and where they feel they can make a significant impact on a patient’s quality of life.
This week occurs during a month devoted to Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a disease that directly impacts the work GI nurses do. As colorectal cancer cases in young adults increase, GI nurses are excellent advocates for their patients to learn how to manage the diagnosis and treatment while living with the emotional and physical impacts of this disease.
Gastroenterology nurses can use many available resources during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month to begin conversations with their patients. They can talk about warning signs and symptoms, family history and other risk factors, the critical timing of screening, and the importance of a healthy lifestyle for everyone, but particularly those at a higher risk for colon cancer.
You’ll be an essential member of many teams that will depend on your clinical expertise in gastroenterology and your knowledge of the patient. As with any nursing specialty, gaining certification in your area of specialty will allow you to increase your knowledge and then put that into practice to offer the best patient care.
As a certified GI nurse, your leadership will be an asset to your organization as well and may inspire other nurses to follow the same path. Your certification brings you expertise that will help you work for policy change that can make life easier for GI patients, help bring improved safety for GI nurses, or raise awareness of GI disorders.
GI nurses also hold a special empathy for those in their care as they hear stories of pain and discomfort and the indignities GI patients sometimes deal with. As a caring provider, you know your nursing practice will help you develop close bonds with your GI patients. Those bonds provide the kind of meaningful connections that give GI nurses a great deal of job satisfaction.
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