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Early Diagnosis is Key When It Comes to Colorectal Cancer

  • July 10, 2013
  • RPh on the Go

colorectal cancerColorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death due to cancer, indiscriminate of gender. The American Cancer Society reports that over 50,000 individuals will die from colorectal cancer in the year 2013 alone. 80% of these lives could be saved by having obtained a preventative screening, which may detect the disease early enough to be treated successfully.

Pharmacists may suggest colon screenings for patients starting at age 50; however, a patient’s family history must be taken into account when discussing screening intervals. Patients with a family history of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer, may wish to get screened more often or earlier than others. Colorectal cancer begins starting from a benign polyp’s transformation into a cancerous tumor. The polyps can be removed during a routine colonoscopy, and most people do not report symptoms in the cancer’s early stages. Early screenings and treatment are critical for increasing a patient’s survival rate. The earlier the cancer is treated, the higher the rate of survival will be. Patients that are treated early have a five-year survival rate of 90%. The later the disease is caught, the lower the survival outcome will be. When the disease is diagnosed when it has reached stage IV, the five-year survival outcome is only 12%. 

Pharmacists play a key role in helping to prevent deaths due to colorectal cancer. Partnering with the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, or the Colon Cancer society may offer pharmacists printable materials, offer support groups to patients already living with the disease, or support for a family member. Pharmacies may want to compile resources for those looking for more information on colorectal cancer, and having a list of websites for patients to visit can be helpful. Compiling a list of frequently asked questions regarding the screening, or what to expect can also help patients that may be experiencing anxiety at the thought of getting screened for colorectal cancer.

Sometimes, treatment may require medication or radiation therapy. Pharmacies can discuss with customers how to best manage their pain levels, stay comfortable, and navigate a life with cancer. Some customers may become depressed or withdrawn upon hearing of their diagnosis, and a pharmacist may be able to suggest a local support group, counseling center, or therapist. If a patient is prescribed medication to also treat depression or anxiety, pharmacists must be vigilant in checking for possible interactions with any drugs the customer may already be on to treat the side effects of chemotherapy.

Pharmacists play a unique and vital role in patient treatment and screening for colorectal cancer. Patients may have questions or concerns regarding a screening, and pharmacists can help to ease their anxiety, while helping patients make the decision to get screened. Pharmacies can offer a number of resources to patients, and having a variety of tools available to help educate patients on the dangers of choosing to not get screened, while reinforcing that the disease is 90% curable with early intervention is a critical part of a pharmacy’s role in prevention and treatment of colorectal cancer.

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