Riverside University Health System Doctor On Colon Cancer Awareness, Screenings And More
March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and the Riverside University Health System has a system in place that they say improves patients’ experience screening and treating colon cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women, excluding skin cancers. It’s also the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.
“Colon cancer with the screening programs has the potential to be a preventable condition,” says Dr. Steve Serrao, Chair of Gastroenterology at the Riverside University Health System.
He says certain populations are especially at risk of developing colon cancer.
“What we have found in population-based studies is the fact that certain populations have higher disparities when it comes to outcomes. So we've identified that the African-American population in addition to the Hispanic population tend to have a higher risk, the highest being African-African males.”
Serrao says the reasons for that are varied. There are genetic, environmental, and societal factors that all contribute to a person’s risk of developing colon cancer.
“So when we think about environmental stressors there's no way to actually measure this but poverty, stressors in life due to racial inequality - those social determinants do play a role, though we're not able to quantify to what level of significance it has. But they do play a role.”
Another factor, Serrao says, is diet.
“A lot of research has gone around a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet, you know, the impact of nuts and seeds on gut health and we're finding that the population that consumes a higher level of processed foods tend to develop polyps and therefore cancer a lot more than those that don't.”
Part of the preventative process for colon cancer is through screenings, or colonoscopies, which detect changes or abnormalities in the colon.
“So basically what we've done is as part of the whole pandemic and shifting away from in-person visits, we've had to revisit how the patients prep for their colonoscopy. So what we've done at Riverside is we've built this patient navigation process," Serrao says.
Patients are referred to RUHS by their primary care physician, and then the patient navigation process takes it from there.
“Patients are then pooled together and attend a virtual class on colonoscopy so what's going to happen, how to prep, what are the outcomes of the colonoscopy, if needed then they have a virtual visit with a pharmacist that manages their medications. A lot of our patients have diabetes, hypertension, they have blood thinners and they need to be managed. And that really helps them have a high-quality colonoscopy experience at Riverside," Serrao says.
About 48 hours before the colonoscopy, RUHS staff call the patient, remind them about the instructions, and help with any final questions about the procedure.
“As a result of this, what we're seeing is, we're seeing a lower rate of drop-offs, we're seeing higher quality colonoscopy prep, and we're seeing better compliance with medications at the time of colonoscopy. So what this results in is that a lot more people are getting higher-quality screening with surveillance colonoscopies and an efficient use of healthcare resources so that they don't have to be rescheduled as often or they don't have to have a real in-person visit. So that creates for more efficiencies in a time where people have less contact with their healthcare system."
If you believe you’re at risk of developing colon cancer, Serrao says, you can consult your primary care physician.