As a growing number of Americans face cancer diagnoses, the role of oncology nurses in helping them navigate the journey ahead becomes increasingly important. The nurse-patient relationship has the power to impact patients’ quality of life and even clinical outcomes. Although much of the conversation with patients will likely revolve around treatment and follow-up, nurses also have a unique opportunity to create meaningful dialogue about prevention, including talking to patients about cancer screening.

The challenge is that while we know how crucial screening is to early detection, treatment success, and long-term outcomes, patient adherence to screenings is notoriously low. Colorectal cancer (CRC) is a great example of the importance of screening.

The second deadliest form of cancer in the United States — second only to lung cancer — colorectal cancer is expected to kill more than 49,000 people this year.1 The good news is that because of the slow progression of polyps from benign to malignant, the 5-year survival rate when diagnosis is made at an early stage is greater than 90%.2 Even better, if polyps are identified and removed in the precancerous phase, colorectal cancer can be prevented.3

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Unfortunately, more than 23 million Americans in the recommended group (50 years and older; earlier for some groups and those with a family history) avoid screening.4 As a result, many cases are not diagnosed until the late stages, when the 5-year survival rate is a mere 12%.2