Taking It One Step Further: How to Educate on Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer

Healthcare providers of all disciplines should work together to educate individuals about the symptoms of colorectal cancer.

In conjunction with the issuance of a national clinical alert on young adults with colorectal cancer, healthcare providers should get creative in sharing the signs and symptoms among this patient population, according to Andrew Albert, MD, MPH.

“What can providers do? They can educate the public and clinical staff about early adult onset (colorectal cancer) and family history. Albert, who is medical director at Illinois Masonic Medical Center, said at the 2019 Early Age Onset Colorectal Cancer Summit. “What is so special about this alert is that it is not just geared toward [primary cancer providers (PCPs)] but other providers. So, it is important to think about who else touches patients’ lives.”

The clinical alert—authored by Albert; Chelsea Boet, MD; Cindy Borassi; Anne Carlson; Whitney Jones, MD; Erin Peterson; and Tom Weber, MD–is issued to healthcare providers including adult and pediatric primary care, family and internal medicine, gastroenterology, OB-GYN, surgical specialties, emergency and urgent care departments, occupational medicine, community health centers, departments of health, and healthcare systems worldwide.

“The clinical alert was drafted to emphasize the things that primary care doctors and other (healthcare) providers can do to help convey some urgency, compelling statistics, an overview of the early-onset signs and symptoms, statistics relevant to family history that PCPS and other providers may not know, but also ways practitioners can help,” Albert said.

He noted that implementing this alert among the multidisciplinary team members has been a challenge while PCPs also may not be incorporating it into daily practice. “I would venture to guess that maybe we can all do better.”

“One thing to think about is that we only see the tip of the iceberg. The real question is, what about those people you haven’t touched? What about those people you haven’t spoken to?” he added. “Those clinical alerts are good to heighten your awareness in the office, but what about those other people? You’re busy, you go to meetings, go to clinic, you educate, repeat. We’ve all been there, but one thing I want to propose is that maybe we’re seeing the same patients over and over again. Maybe there is an opportunity to speak to others using this clinical alert.”

In turn, healthcare providers can educate the public and the rest of their clinical staff about early age onset colorectal cancer, as well as the significance of family history. In addition, implementing early assessments during physical exams and educating individuals on the “basics” of digestive health—all while helping colleagues and staff members to understand the importance of these initiatives–can lead to success, Albert said.

To conclude, he urged providers at the summit to take the alert one step further now that he and his colleagues provided them with the essentials. “Don’t just put it on your desk and say, ‘This is a great reference, I’m going to look at this 10 times this week.’ Share this with your colleagues.…Help your colleagues understand how they can make this clinical alert a more effective tool.”