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Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month: Education and Practice Tools

Two older adults smile together after being screened for colorectal cancer

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) urges all health care providers to explain the importance of colorectal cancer screening this March.

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the U.S. While the risk is slightly higher for men (4.3% chance of developing the disease), the risk remains high for women (4%). Every year, colorectal cancer claims the lives of nearly as many women as ovarian, cervical and uterine cancers do combined.

Thanks to a number of factors — including advances in prevention, screening and treatment — colorectal cancer death rates have declined 53% among men and 57% among women from 1969 to 2017. Unfortunately, this comes alongside a rise in diagnoses for patients under 50 years of age and continued high rates of diagnosis and death for patients of African or Alaska Native descent. In addition, while screening rates tend to be higher for patients 50 years of age or older, rates are lower for younger patients. Since colorectal cancer has a 90.2% five-year relative survival rate if found at the localized stage, screening remains an imperative defense against the disease.

Healthy People 2030, a 10-year national health care initiative overseen by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, has a number of objectives related to colorectal cancer, including reducing the death rate, increasing the proportion of adults who receive screening based on the most recent guidelines and increasing the proportion of people with colorectal cancer who get tested for Lynch syndrome.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are on the front lines of health care and can help educate patients on the importance of colorectal cancer prevention and screening. In 2018, a survey of 358 NPs found that these health care providers were highly engaged in colorectal cancer screening, with 79% of survey respondents reporting that they routinely discuss screening with their eligible patients.

Other research has demonstrated NP competence in colorectal cancer screening. In a United Kingdom study, it was found that there was no significant difference between doctors and nurses in patient outcomes at the one-day, one-month or one-year mark after upper and/or lower gastrointestinal endoscopy. A systematic review and meta-analysis found no significant differences between nurses, PAs or NPs and physicians in polyp and adenoma detection rates in sigmoidoscopy performance studies.

This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, NPs should counsel all patients aged 50 years and older about the benefits of colorectal cancer screening.

Gain a further understanding of colorectal cancer and earn continuing education (CE) this month with Colorectal Cancer: A Comprehensive Overview (available in the AANP CE Center with 1.0 contact hours of CE credit, including 0.25 pharmacology). You will learn how to identify the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, discuss the importance of family history and related cancers and learn to provide survivorship care. The importance of selecting screening tests based on individualized patient care and recent clinical guidelines is also highlighted.

In addition, AANP offers a members-only Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines Summary Clinical Practice Brief, which summarizes clinical guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) and United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). This includes screening test options, an explanation of high-risk groups, ages at which screening should begin and more.

AANP members are also invited to join the Gastroenterology Specialty Practice Group (SPG), an online community for discussion, collaboration and networking. Join this growing SPG community for just $20 annually to take part in interactive discussion and debate, gain support and stay on top of the latest available news, education and information. Current topics range from ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome to resources for NPs just starting their career.

Four NP learners smile and obtain continuing education online amid a colorful overlay of blue and red

CE at the 2021 AANP National Conference

Registration is now open for the online 2021 AANP National Conference! Earn the CE credit you need and network virtually with thousands of NPs from every specialty and practice setting who share your interest in high-quality education, evidence-based practice, information sharing and leadership skills.

The 2021 AANP National Conference offers more than 80 on-demand CE sessions that can be viewed on your schedule throughout the entire conference period: June 15-August 31, 2021. Start planning your conference now by exploring these CE sessions:

  • Impact of COVID-19 on Men's, Women's and Children's Health.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease: What You Need to Know.
  • Less is More: Deprescribing in Geriatrics.
  • Management of Acute Abdominal Pain: To Cut or Observe.
  • Navigating the Maze of Insulin Choices for Diabetic Patients.
  • Oncologic and Hematologic Emergencies.
  • Tell Me Something I Don't Know! Real Scenarios to Reduce Diagnostic Errors in Emergency Care.
  • The Safe and Effective Use of Supplements in Common Disorders.
  • Thyroid Cancer and Thyroid Nodules: 2021 Updates.
  • Understanding Social Determinants of Health and the Link to Healthcare Outcomes.

Register Now