Updated NCCN Cancer Screening Guidelines Inform Practice and Prevention

February 04, 2020 by Chris Pirschel ONS Staff Writer/Producer
therese bevers
Therese Bevers, MD, is the medical director of clinical cancer prevention for the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX, and chair of the Breast Cancer Risk Reduction and Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis NCCN guidelines panels.

As an industry standard, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) screening guidelines have served a huge role in cancer prevention and early detection efforts, helping providers identify diagnoses early and give patients their best possible chance at survival. Ensuring screening guidelines are up to date and using the best available evidence is an ongoing process that requires an interprofessional approach.

For the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology for Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnosis, breast imagers, breast cancer surgeons, family physicians, and other healthcare professionals meet as a panel to assess the evidence and review current screening recommendations for practice. During the review process, panel members bring the screening recommendations to their home institutions, where they undergo institutional review, and collect comments from colleagues and other healthcare professionals. The panel then conducts a thorough literature review, examining the latest research, articles, and publications for trends that could influence the conversation. Once the panel collects its evidence, it reconvenes and reviews the information, point by point, to determine which elements should be included in the updated guidelines.

After considerable discussion, peer review, open comments, and revisions, updated guidelines are finally released. Because many oncology professionals aren’t routinely trained in ongoing cancer screening, NCCN guidelines have a critical role in informing practice. Often, community healthcare providers or family physicians without in-depth cancer knowledge might contact oncology colleagues to better understand the best course of action for a patient with a potential breast cancer diagnosis. The NCCN breast cancer screening guidelines can provide a roadmap for oncology professionals.

But it’s important for clinicians to know that NCCN guidelines don’t stop at screening recommendations, either. The documents are written for the entire diagnostic process—from screening through early detection and diagnosis. Patients with cancer may often ask their oncology nurses questions concerning a family member’s cancer risk, and the NCCN guidelines can provide information about how those individuals can best monitor their risk for a diagnosis.

Oncology nurses are ideally positioned to know the value of catching a cancer early and working with patients to ensure they’re up to date with their recommended screenings. Even nurses working primarily with patients with breast cancer can still have conversations about screenings for ovarian cancer or ask if patients are up to date with their colonoscopy screenings. Nurses are adept at building trust with their patients, and they’re key to providing essential screening knowledge. The NCCN screening guidelines can help in those prevention efforts. They’re comprehensive, are updated at least annually, and will provide nurses with the latest recommendations to help facilitate patient discussions and guide patients to the screenings most appropriate for them.

Copyright © 2020 by the Oncology Nursing Society. User has permission to print one copy for personal or unit-based educational use. Contact pubpermissions@ons.org for quantity reprints.