Healthcare providers and caregivers must be well-trained to provide care to patients with colorectal cancer
egular screening and early detection can greatly improve outcomes for those with colorectal cancer. A family physician can play a critical role in cancer screening by identifying patients who are at high risk of developing cancer due to their age, family history or lifestyle choices. Once these patients have been identified, screening methods such as complete blood picture and faecal occult blood testing can be done by the family physician. Moreover, in collaboration with a gastrointestinal physician, a more advanced colonoscopy can be planned.
Once a patient has been diagnosed with cancer, the family physician can work with the patient to identify a treatment plan, which may involve specialised care and referral to a specialist. These include either surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. It is important to note that the specific treatment plan for a patient with cancer will depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health and preferences and the recommendations of the healthcare team. Therefore it is essential for patients to work closely with their family physician to develop a personalised treatment plan that is right for them.
Patients may feel overwhelmed by the demands of treatment and the impact of the disease on their daily lives. Moreover, these treatments can cause a range of physical symptoms. These symptoms can include changes to their appearance, body image and self-identity. Patients may feel self-conscious about scars, hair loss or other physical changes, thus struggling to adjust to their new reality. It is also important to take care of physical health during this time. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in exercise to reduce vulnerability to blood clot formation are some of the things which a family physician can encourage patients to do to help through the treatment and recovery process.
Being diagnosed with colorectal cancer can be a highly stressful and emotional experience for patients. This includes feelings of confusion, anxiety and depression. Patients may struggle to come to terms with their diagnosis and may experience a sense of loss of control over their lives. To help patients cope with these emotional reactions, healthcare providers may use various psychometric tools to assess their psychological state and provide appropriate support. Tools such as the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale can be useful in identifying individuals who may benefit from additional support and measuring the changes in symptoms of anxiety and depression over time. Interviews and counselling sessions with mental health professionals can also help.
Furthermore, it is important for patients to receive reassurance that they are not alone in this journey. Support from family and friends can be crucial in helping patients cope with the emotional stress of a cancer diagnosis. Support groups can also be helpful in connecting patients with others who are going through similar experiences and help alleviate feelings of isolation. Patients may also benefit from mindfulness-based stress reduction, such as meditation and deep-breathing exercises. These techniques can help patients feel more relaxed and centred and can improve overall quality of life.
Palliative care and hospice care are two types of specialised care available for cancer patients facing end-of-life issues. The family physician can provide emotional support to the patient and their family and help them navigate this healthcare system. The goal of palliative care is to improve the patient’s quality of life. It may involve managing symptoms like pain, nausea and anxiety. Palliative care can be provided by a team of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, social workers and religious leaders. While palliative care is provided through the course of a serious illness to improve the patient’s quality of life, hospice care is typically provided to patients who have a limited life expectancy to help them and their families during the final stage of their illness. In collaboration with primary care physicians, hospice care can be provided in either a hospital or nursing home, or at the patient’s home.
Regular follow-up care is important to monitor for any signs of cancer recurrence or treatment-related complications. A follow-up care plan tailored to the patient’s needs must be organised by the family physician in partnership with the oncologist.
The writer is a family physician