What you need to know about colorectal cancer care during a pandemic

New Milford Hospital
COVID-19 and CRC


  • Nuvance Health patients with colorectal cancer continue to receive treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Nuvance Health has resumed colonoscopy screenings for colorectal cancer.
  • If someone is experiencing unusual gastrointestinal symptoms, they should schedule an appointment with a physician — either in-person or via telemedicine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly caused many changes in the way people go about their day-to-day activities and seek medical care. Patients who are receiving treatment for colorectal cancer, such as colon cancer or rectal cancer, have had to adjust to enhanced safety precautions and a “new normal” care routine. Some people may be hesitant to resume routine care such as colonoscopy screenings or delay care. Here are ways Nuvance Health is protecting cancer patients undergoing treatment, and why it’s important to resume screenings and to seek care if you’re experiencing any unusual gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Enhanced safety measures

Nuvance Health has implemented a variety of enhanced patient safety measures at all facilities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including:

  • Screening protocols: Patients and staff are screened for risk factors of COVID-19.
  • Check-in/out processes: To limit the number of people in Nuvance Health facilities and ensure proper social distancing, patients may be asked to wait in their vehicles until their appointment begins, or in waiting areas with fewer chairs set more than 6 feet apart. Pre-registration and follow-up appointments will be done by phone.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): Face masks are worn by patients, approved visitors, and staff. Clinical staff may also wear additional PPE including face shields, head coverings, gloves, or surgical gowns.
  • Infection prevention: Stringent cleaning and disinfecting of facilities take place throughout the day with a deep clean daily.

Dr. John Choi, colorectal surgeon and chair of surgery at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, part of Nuvance Health, said that these new safeguards at Nuvance Health facilities allowed for patients, particularly those receiving chemotherapy, to continue treatment during the pandemic.

John Choi, MD
Dr. John Choi, Colorectal Surgeon
Chair of Surgery at Vassar Brothers Medical Center
Medical Director for General Surgery for Health Quest Medical Practice

Testing has also been a critical component of Nuvance Health’s safety measures. Patients who meet criteria need to have a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their procedure or surgery. There are designated operating rooms and recovery units for patients who don’t have COVID-19.

“How we deliver care has changed, but we’ve done many things across the health system to ensure that our patients continue to get appropriate care,” said Dr. James McClane, colorectal surgeon and chief of colorectal surgery at Norwalk Hospital, part of Nuvance Health.

James McClane, MD
Dr. James McClane, Colorectal Surgeon
Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Norwalk Hospital

Cancer patients undergoing treatment are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. During the height of the pandemic, a team of Nuvance Health surgical oncologists reviewed each individual patient to determine the benefits or risks of surgery, and non-operative treatment options, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Cancer care teams developed treatment plans based on patient safety and the latest guidelines from national oncology associations and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We continued to provide the care our patients needed during this pandemic,” said Dr. Choi, who is also the medical director for general surgery for Health Quest Medical Practice. “We operated on patients who needed surgery for example, if they had a time-sensitive malignancy — and we were able to operate appropriately using robotics or whatever was the best approach for the patient.”

Resuming cancer screenings

Although cancer care continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, elective procedures such as routine colonoscopy screenings were temporarily put on hold. Nuvance Health has resumed elective colonoscopy screenings following the same protocols that are in place for surgical patients and patients who visit the office.

“At this point, we’re getting back to a mostly normal schedule, and how we’ve delivered care during the pandemic will carry over if it’s benefiting our patients,” said Dr. McClane.

A colonoscopy screening is the best way to screen for and prevent colorectal cancer. Check out this Colorectal Cancer Screening Guide to learn when you should get a colonoscopy.

Seek care for concerning symptoms

If someone is experiencing unusual GI symptoms but is afraid to go to the doctor or hospital for care, Dr. Choi and Dr. McClane both say they should schedule an appointment with a physician — either in-person or via telemedicine. Unusual GI symptoms that may require medical attention include persistent changes in bowel habits, changes in stool consistency, blood in the stool, and abdominal discomfort.

“We’re seeing patients in the office, but telemedicine is an option too,” said Dr. McClane. “At the very least, you may be able to have a telemedicine visit to discuss your symptoms. Then, if you need an exam in the office or an imaging test, we will work with you on that.”

“If a patient feels nervous about coming in for care, they should not hesitate to contact a member of the care team for reassurance,” said Dr. Choi.

To learn more about Nuvance Health Virtual Visits, please go to nuvancehealth.org/virtualvisits.

“We’re here to help”

Despite the increased safety measures, some patients with colorectal cancer are still delaying cancer treatment.

“We have some cancer referral patients who are afraid to come to see us because they are worried about their immunocompromised state especially if they are on chemotherapy,” said Dr. Choi. “In addition to our new safety measures, we have other protocols — such increasing the time between appointments and scheduling fewer patients at the same time — to protect patients and staff.”

Dr. Choi also said that some surgical patients are wondering what will happen after they have surgery, especially if they need to stay in the hospital for several days.

“If you don’t have COVID-19, you’ll be in a non-COVID-19 section of the hospital, and your care team will not be taking care of you at the same time as caring for our COVID-19-positive patients,” said Dr. Choi.

In addition, Dr. Choi noted that medical professionals now have more experience treating COVID-19 and more knowledge about the virus, allowing them to be more adept at reducing the risk of transmission in healthcare facilities.

His advice for patients with colorectal cancer?

“COVID-19 has not gone away, and it probably won’t go away for a while; neither will your cancer,” said Dr. Choi. “Courage is doing the thing you need to do despite your fear, and that means getting through your fear of COVID-19 and seeing a clinician. We’re here to help.”

The bottom line: Different care delivery methods and new safety protocols allowed Nuvance Health patients with colorectal cancer to continue receiving treatment during COVID-19. With enhanced safeguards in place, there is no reason to delay colorectal cancer care, routine colonoscopy screenings, or care if you’re experiencing any unusual GI symptoms.

To learn more about colorectal surgery at Nuvance Health, visit our websites:

Connecticut Colorectal Surgery | New York Colorectal Surgery

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at nuvancehealth.org/coronavirus, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name.

Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org