Written by Gina Lawrence, RN, Nurse Navigator – Gastrointestinal Cancer
It may come as a surprise, but the real madness in March has nothing to do with basketball. March 1st kicks off Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Every March National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month spotlights this disease and inspires more people to get checked starting at the age of 45.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of cancer in men and women, and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. for men and women. Colorectal cancer is highly preventable with screening and highly treatable when caught early. A missed or delayed screening gives colorectal cancer a chance to grow and become more dangerous long before symptoms appear. Many people believe that colorectal cancer is an “old persons” disease. In reality, the rates of colorectal cancer are rising in individuals younger than 50. Studies indicate the rise of colorectal cancers in young adults can be attributed to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. The American Cancer Society now recommends that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45 instead of 50.
As a gastrointestinal cancer nurse navigator, I am my patient’s biggest cheerleader. I advocate for my patients by providing education to help them understand their diagnosis and treatment options, removing barriers to care and connecting them to local and national community resources. GI cancers are complicated due to the complex nature of the GI tract and with colorectal cancer on the rise in younger adults, nurse navigators are needed now more than ever.
During the past 20 years, rates of colorectal cancer fell in people 50 and older, largely because more people are getting recommended screening tests. Screenings can prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing growths, called polyps, in the colon and rectum before they turn into cancer. Screenings can also often find colorectal cancer early, when it’s small, hasn’t spread and is easier to treat. My mother battled and ultimately died from preventable cancer, and that’s why I’m so passionate about my role as a patient navigator. I don’t want another person to die from cancer that could have been prevented through early detection.
The ‘gold standard’ for colorectal screening is a colonoscopy. There are other screening methods available that can be done from the comfort of your home. The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) and multi-target stool DNA test (Cologuard) can be done from home. While these tests can be good options, if you receive a positive result a colonoscopy will be needed for further testing.
We all know that conversations about colon health can be awkward. We also know that colorectal cancers are preventable and highly treatable with early detection. Don’t let colorectal cancer catch you with your pants down! Talk to your healthcare provider and find out what screening test is recommended for you and get it done. Your life could depend on it.
Gina Lawrence is the ONLY Nurse Navigator specializing in gastrointestinal cancer in Volusia County. If you have questions or would like more information, please call Gina at 386.425.BLUE or visit halifaxhealth.org/CancerCare.
What will my Nurse Navigator do for me?
- Provide emotional support and comfort upon diagnosis
- Serve as a main point of contact to help you navigate through the healthcare system
- Collaborate with physicians, healthcare providers and team members to provide advice, support and real-time answers to your questions
- Connect you with local and national resources