After receiving their diagnosis of colorectal cancer, patients may show up to their first surgical visit grappling with fear, confusion and a huge knowledge gap. With so much to learn in such a short time about cancer and their upcoming surgery, patients sometimes miss out on critical information about the therapy and wound care that may follow their procedures.
Fortunately, City of Hope colorectal cancer physicians and health care specialists are about to change that.
Surgeons, medical oncologists, nurses, patient educators and others in the gastrointestinal cancer program will staff a once-a-week colorectal cancer clinic for City of Hope patients. Expected to open by March, the full-day Monday clinic will cover a spectrum of disparate medical and educational services needed by patients with colon or rectal cancer, all in one place and time.
In creating the program, City of Hope joins a national movement by top-tier cancer centers to establish multispecialty clinics geared especially for patients with colon and rectal cancers.
"Over the years, we’ve recognized that there’s so much information patients need about treatment for colorectal cancer," said surgeon Lily Lai, M.D., who spearheads the effort. "A lot of patients have gotten about a half-hour visit with the surgeon about the operation, but we weren’t able to tell them about everything that comes after the surgery. There’s chemotherapy, stoma care…patients find that they get to the point of consenting for a stoma, and they don’t have a lot of information about that."
The clinic, set to open in the Brawerman Ambulatory Care Center, is expected to feature consultation and procedure rooms. "We also will have dedicated rectal ultrasound," said Stephen Shibata, M.D., medical oncologist with the team and director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program.
Gastrointestinal surgeon Joshua D.I. Ellenhorn, M.D., believes the clinic will fill an increasing need. "As our colorectal program has grown in size and expertise, it has become clear that the best way to provide our services is in the context of a multidisciplinary colorectal clinic," Ellenhorn said. "This clinic will provide a one-stop resource for patients with complex colorectal conditions."
Physicians also will include surgeon Alessio Pigazzi, M.D., as well as radiation oncologist Yi Jen Chen, M.D., who will participate as needed when cancer patients need pre- or post-operative radiotherapy treatments.
"We’re very eager to put in the education element as well," said Lai, who is enthusiastic about participation by Robin Gemmill, R.N., a wound and stoma nurse.
A stoma – the connection of the intestine to the skin – may be necessary in colorectal cancer patients, and having a dedicated nurse available to answer questions about stoma care can be vital to patients' health and quality of life after surgery.
In addition, social workers and patient/family education specialists will help patients navigate the treatment process.
Uniting in one place will streamline the care that specialists can provide. Physicians will meet at lunchtime during the clinic to discuss treatment plans, especially those of new patients, and will talk about whether certain patients may be appropriate for clinical trials or have specialized treatment needs.
Health care providers are seeing a demand for such services. According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in men and women in the United States. Physicians will diagnose about 106,680 new cases of colon cancer and about 41,930 new cases of rectal cancer this year.