Navigation Strategies for Patients With Gastrointestinal Cancers

Reviewing a patient's abdominal scans.
Reviewing a patient’s abdominal scans.
The oncology nurse navigator is a significant member of the multidisciplinary team that cares for the patient with GI cancer.

Providing the best possible outcomes for patients with GI cancers requires the collaboration of a multidisciplinary team of medical and support staff to meet all their needs. As a nurse navigator, we are given an opportunity to be an essential part of this team providing education, resources, psychosocial support, and assistance with removing any barriers to care.

We use the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) distress screening tool to identify these barriers and help promote quality of life for patients as they go through treatment and into survivorship. There are many dimensions of distress including, but not limited to: financial toxicity, psychosocial, emotional, and practical problems for patients and their caregivers, as well as symptom burden associated with the disease itself and side effects of treatments received.

Treatment modalities for patients with GI cancers may include surgery, radiation, and systemic therapy including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapies. To understand each of these treatments, it is imperative to look through the eyes of survivors and understand both short- and long-term side effects to better educate and equip your patient with the resources they will need through treatment and beyond.

An early referral to a dietician is very important with all gastrointestinal cancers and can make a big difference in quality of life for patients during treatment and after. Connecting patients to a genetics counselor, social worker, mental health counseling, support groups, pelvic floor physical therapist, ostomy nurses, financial planners, fertility specialist, palliative care, and more can play a vital role in making the patient experience the best it can possibly be. At the end of life, we collaborate with palliative care and hospice teams to help patients and family members move into this phase of life with dignity and peace and with having their wishes being heard and seen. Being an oncology nurse navigator is truly everything I love about being an oncology nurse. It is those beautiful moments shared with patients and their families that catch us unaware and forever change us for the better.

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This article originally appeared on Oncology Nurse Advisor