(October 2, 2013) For Alemayehu Anna, facing a colorectal cancer diagnosis wasn’t going to keep the 50-year-old information technologist from fulfilling the demands of his busy work schedule.
So when he learned about a highly effective colorectal cancer treatment offered at Inova Alexandria Hospital that would ensure a quick return to work, Anna knew it was the best option for him.
The procedure, known as laparoscopic low anterior resection, is one of many advanced techniques provided by the hospital’s highly skilled medical team.
“Compared to traditional open surgery, this minimally invasive technique provides the identical cancer benefit, a shorter hospital stay, a quicker return to function and shorter home recovery,” says Anna’s surgeon, Lawrence Stern, MD, a colon and rectal surgeon at Fairfax Colon & Rectal Surgery and Medical Director of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Inova Alexandria Hospital. “A faster recovery is important because we have patients like Mr. Anna, who are professionals, and they want to get back to work quickly.”
Colorectal cancer occurs when polyps, or abnormal growths lining the colon or rectum, become cancerous. If diagnosed early, this slow-growing cancer is highly treatable with surgery. In cases where the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be used to eradicate any remaining cancer cells.
The medical team at Inova Alexandria Hospital specializes in the most advanced minimally invasive procedures to halt colorectal cancer in its tracks. During laparoscopic surgery, a miniature camera and surgical instruments are introduced into the abdomen through tiny incisions. The surgeon is able to see a detailed view of the colon and the surrounding structures on a display monitor during the operation.
Because the incisions are so small and located just above the pubic bone, there is a “tremendous cosmetic benefit,” according to Dr. Stern. “Another advantage,” he adds, “is that patients recover their bowel function more quickly following minimally invasive surgery.”
The minute Anna walked through the door at Inova Alexandria Hospital, a highly skilled team that treats each patient with a collaborative approach was by his side.
“Inova Alexandria Hospital has the largest group of board-certified colorectal surgeons operating with the latest techniques in cancer treatment in the region,” says Dr. Stern.
The medical team uses a comprehensive cancer strategy, from diagnosis through treatment and follow-up care. Twice a month, cancer specialists at Inova Alexandria Hospital, including medical oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, radiation oncologists and pathologists, meet to discuss each patient’s case and determine the best course of treatment.
“We offer a multidisciplinary approach where multiple specialists discuss each case in a group setting, resulting in years of expertise available to you all at one time,” says Dr. Stern. “There’s a collaborative effort among the team.”
Fixing the Problem
Back when Anna noticed unusual symptoms such as a change in bowel function, he was referred by his primary care physician to Ronald Barkin, MD, a gastroenterologist at Inova Alexandria Hospital. Dr. Barkin performed a colonoscopy, which revealed a mass in the rectosigmoid, which is located between the end of the large intestine and the rectum. He recommended that Anna meet with Dr. Stern to discuss surgical treatment.
“Dr. Stern was very friendly and he explained everything to me and he gave me several options,” says Anna. “I chose to have minimally invasive surgery because it was important for me to get back to work.”
Operating through tiny incisions, Dr. Stern removed the diseased part of Anna’s colon and rejoined the healthy tissue. The pathology report showed that the cancer had invaded one of 17 lymph nodes, necessitating chemotherapy treatment as a follow-up measure.
The procedure took about two hours and Anna went home within two days. “The surgery couldn’t have gone better and his recovery couldn’t have gone quicker,” says Dr. Stern.
Within three weeks of his operation, he was back in the office. “The surgery was amazing,” he says. “Dr. Stern did a wonderful job.”
Colorectal cancer can be successfully treated if caught early. Getting screened not only ensures early detection, it can also prevent cancer from occurring since polyps can be removed before becoming cancerous.
The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened starting at age 50 and then once every 10 years. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should talk to their physicians about being screened before age 50. Here are four screening tests that can help you stay healthy:
- Colonoscopy. This test uses a long flexible scope attached to a video camera, allowing your physician to view your entire colon and rectum. During this test your doctor can remove polyps and take tissue samples for analysis.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This procedure is like a colonoscopy, but it only examines part of the colon and rectum. If your doctor finds a pre-cancerous polyp or colorectal cancer, a colonoscopy may be needed to evaluate the rest of your colon.
- Barium enema . Your doctor places a liquid dye into the lower gastrointestinal tract, then makes a picture of your colon using X-rays.
- CT colonograph y (virtual colonoscop y). If you are unable to undergo colonoscopy, your doctor may recommend computerized tomography (CT) images to view the inside of your colon.
- Fecal occult blood test . This screening test checks stool samples for blood in the feces.
Signs and Symptoms
Many people with colon cancer experience no signs or symptoms in its early stages, which is why it’s important to get screened. Talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following:
- a change in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
- rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- narrower than normal stools
- abdominal discomfort
- a feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- unexplained weight loss
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