This Community Medical Center Colorectal Cancer article was provided by RWJBarnabas Health.
When Janice Inkrote was affected by severe stomach pain last July, fear was her biggest enemy. It kept her from seeking help for several weeks, just as it had prevented her from having a recommended colonoscopy years earlier. But when the 51-year-old was referred to Community Medical Center (CMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, by CMC attending board-certified gastroenterologist/hepatologist Paul J. DeMartino, M.D., FACG, she found the courage to confront her worries and get the life-saving treatment she needed.
“My brother and father have Crohn’s disease [a chronic bowel condition], so I was afraid I would have it, too,” says the Manchester woman. “I should have had a colonoscopy much sooner because of my family history.”
After about a month of stabbing pain and diarrhea, Janice went to her family doctor, who ordered a series of tests including a colonoscopy. When bloodwork and ultrasound images of her bladder and kidneys came back normal, Dr. DeMartino arranged the colonoscopy immediately.
Following the procedure, Dr. DeMartino informed Janice and her husband that a tumor in the sigmoid colon (the part that connects to the rectum) was discovered, requiring surgical resection. Since she was already “prepped,” Dr. DeMartino advised her to be admitted to CMC and undergo surgery as soon as possible since she would not have to undergo another laxative preparation.
“I decided to go for it!” says the wife and mother, who works as a secretary for the Manchester Township Transportation Department. Within hours, Janice was in the operating room undergoing her life-saving surgery.
Janice’s confidence grew even stronger after speaking to her surgeon, Howard Berger, M.D., chairman of CMC’s Department of Surgery.
“He’s a wonderful doctor. Once again, I went for it!”
Dr. Berger removed the large tumor, along with 18 inches of her colon (large intestine). She healed “extremely well,” and was discharged from the hospital within four days of admission.
While the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes, it was considered “stage 2.” Due to Janice’s age and family history, Dr. Berger recommended she see a medical oncologist.
Janice met with Sara McGee, M.D., who recommended chemotherapy. “I was only home 10 minutes when Dr. McGee’s office called,” she notes, “and they scheduled me to come in the next day for a consultation.”
Even during six months of aggressive chemotherapy infusions, the slender patient was able to gain back most of the 30 pounds she had lost during her illness.
“Dr. DeMartino couldn’t believe the difference,” says Janice, recalling how much healthier she looked at a follow-up visit just six weeks after surgery.
“The nurses, doctors and the entire team at CMC were fantastic,” she enthuses. “They were very responsive to my needs. I can’t say enough about how great they were!”
She does have some words of warning, however: “Don’t be afraid. Don’t bury your head in the sand. Get your colonoscopy – it’s not as bad as people think!
“If I hadn’t gotten help when I did,” adds Janice, “who knows how far the cancer would have progressed.”
COLORECTAL CANCER Q&A: Prevention, Treatable, Beatable
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer – a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum – is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. This year alone, there will be an estimated 95,270 new cases of colon cancer and 39,220 new cases of rectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Despite these sobering statistics, colorectal cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.
Paul J. DeMartino, MD, FACG, attending Board certified gastroenterologist/hepatologist at Community Medical Center and Chair of the hospital’s Colorectal Cancer Awareness Fair for 12 consecutive years, is committed to raising awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of early colonoscopy screenings. Below, Dr. DeMartino answers a few common questions about colorectal cancer screening.
Q: What should people know about colorectal cancer?
A: Colorectal cancer is generally asymptomatic, so people may have the disease without even knowing it. This is why colon screening is absolutely critical. Early detection and intervention can reduce mortality by up to 90 percent. It’s one of the most preventable and curable cancers when detected early. By increasing public awareness and speaking out, we can drive more and more people to get screened and fight back against colorectal cancer.
Q: What is a colonoscopy and why is it important?
A: A colonoscopy is the gold standard in screening to detect colorectal cancer or precancerous polyps in people who have no symptoms of the disease. Screening can also prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they turn into cancer. A colonoscopy enables doctors to see inside the entire colon and rectum to search for polyps or any other early signs of cancer. Using a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end, the doctor views the internal images on a TV screen. The exam takes roughly 30 minutes and patients are required to prep the night before by taking liquid or tablet laxatives.
Q: Who should get screened and when?
A: Typically, adults should begin screening at age 50. However, there are many different risk factors that require screenings more frequently or at an earlier age, including: prior colon polyps, family history of colorectal cancer, women with ovarian, uterine or breast cancer and individuals with inflammatory bowel disease. Be sure to discuss your personal risks with your doctor to determine when you should get screened.
Q: What are symptoms of colorectal cancer?
A: While most people don’t experience symptoms, some people may experience bleeding, abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements, unintentional weight loss, anemia and changes in appetite. But, don’t wait for symptoms – get screened!
Q: What is the 80% by 2018 initiative?
A: The American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the members of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable have created a national initiative designed to increase colorectal screening rates to 80 percent by 2018. Thanks to screening, over the last 10 years, colorectal cancer incidence rates have dropped 30 percent in the U.S. among adults 50 and older. However, 23 million Americans between the ages of 50 and 75 are not being screened. In New Jersey, only 55 to 60 percent of eligible residents get screened. We need to change that to ensure people are benefitting equally from this life-saving technology.
Q: Why don’t more people get screened for colon cancer?
A: Most people avoid getting a colonoscopy because they feel awkward, embarrassed or uncomfortable. With respect to those feelings, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives.
Eat Right to Improve Colon Health
What you eat is incredibly important to your colon and the rest of your gastrointestinal tract. A healthy diet can lower your risk of developing colon polyps, colon cancer and inflammatory bowel diseases.
Increase fiber. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables will up your fiber intake and protect your colon against cancer and other diseases.
Decrease saturated fat. Red meat is high in saturated fat and has been linked to increased rates of colon cancer.
Increase unsaturated fats. Fish and plant-based oils contain omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated fats, which improve cell health and can decrease colon cancer risk by 12 percent.
Limit alcohol. Excessive drinking can irritate the digestive tract and liver.
To learn more about how to eat healthy to improve colon health, talk to your health care provider or contact the Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Department at Community Medical Center at 732-557-8000 ext. 11484. For a referral to a gastroenterologist, call 1-888-724-7123.