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Colonoscopy Can Save Lives

Tuesday, March 09, 2010 - Danbury, CT

Scott Estabrook

Barbara Scully believes she will beat colon cancer with the support of her family and healthcare team at Danbury Hospital’s Praxair Cancer Center.

But it’s a battle Scully may have avoided if she hadn’t waited until age 67 to get her first colonoscopy. “That was a big mistake,” said the Brookfield resident, whose treatment plan includes specialized colorectal surgery followed by 12 treatments of chemotherapy.

“I wish I had been more aware of the importance of getting a colonoscopy,” said Scully. “I didn’t think this could happen to me because I felt healthy and didn’t have symptoms. But it did happen. People need to know it could happen to them.”

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Scully’s message comes as the nation marks Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month throughout March. Colorectal cancer (cancer of the colon or rectum) is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States, among cancers affecting both men and women, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Fortunately, there’s good news. “Colon cancer is preventable and treatable if detected early with a colorectal cancer screening test or colonoscopy,” said Scott Estabrook, MD, a gastroenterologist at Danbury Hospital. At least 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be avoided if everyone aged 50 or older had regular screenings, reports the CDC.

“Colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure that can find and remove suspicious polyps even before they turn into cancer. In some cases, we can remove small, malignant polyps that don’t require anything but colonoscopy for a cure. Plus the use of monitored anesthesia during a colonoscopy makes this a painless procedure for patients,” he said.

Screening saves lives

People who do not have symptoms and have no family history of colorectal cancer should get their first colonoscopy at age 50. “It’s like getting your AARP card when you turn 50. It’s time for a colonoscopy,” said Dr. Estabrook. “But some people may need a colonoscopy at an earlier age. Speak with your family physician.”

Staying positive during difficult times

In Scully’s case, a colonoscopy performed by Dr. Estabrook found suspicious polyps and a biopsy confirmed the presence of colon cancer. As the first line of treatment, Scully underwent laparoscopic surgery with Christopher Foglia, MD, who specializes in colorectal cancer surgery. She is now undergoing 12 treatments of chemotherapy under the supervision of Vincent Rella, MD, a medical oncologist at the Praxair Cancer Center.

Despite the hardships, Scully prefers to focus on the positive, grateful to be in the compassionate and skilled hands of the surgeons, oncologists, nurses, volunteers and other professionals at Danbury Hospital’s Praxair Cancer Center.

“Let me tell you, I love Danbury Hospital,” she said. “Everyone is so knowledgeable and personable. They can handle any situation. I don’t get anxious about going in for treatment because I know the staff will do everything possible to make me feel comfortable. The service and the people at Danbury Hospital are fabulous.”

Cancer care at its best

Scully’s experience at Danbury Hospital illustrates why hundreds of Connecticut and New York residents turn to the Praxair Cancer Center each year.

  • Full spectrum of cancer care from prevention to treatment Scully found all the experts and resources she needed—from a colonoscopy to specialized colorectal surgery to advanced chemotherapy treatments—close to home. And she didn’t need to wait: Scully met with the surgeon just days after the diagnosis and had surgery within two weeks. Chemotherapy began shortly thereafter. “We did everything one, two, three,” she said.

Danbury Hospital has the technology to diagnose and stage colorectal cancer, such as specialized ultrasound to determine if surgery, chemotherapy or radiation should be the first line of defense for rectal cancer. “Patients don’t need to travel to another institution for testing or services,” said Dr. Foglia. “It’s all available at Danbury Hospital.”

  • Specialized colorectal surgical care  Colorectal surgeons at Danbury Hospital perform the highest percentage of laparoscopic colorectal cancer surgeries in Connecticut. “Studies show surgeons who specialize in colorectal surgery have better surgical and cancer outcomes,” noted Dr. Foglia.

The benefits of laparoscopic surgery for patients are plentiful. “Laparoscopic procedures involve minimal incisions which mean less pain, a shorter hospital stay, a faster recovery and a quicker return to normal activities,” said Dr. Foglia. “Patients also are able to resume a regular diet more quickly.”

  • Advanced treatment options  Danbury Hospital provides state-of-the-art care for all tumor types, including colon cancer. “New treatment regimens including biologics and delivery systems such as portable infusion pumps have drastically changed how we manage patients with early and advanced colorectal cancer,” said Rella. “In people with advanced disease, the use of adjuvant chemotherapy following surgery can improve survival and preserve quality of life. Some drugs can interfere with receptors on the cancer cells and shuts them down.”

Scully wears a small pump that continuously infuses medication for 48 hours, allowing her to say home during part of her treatment. Another medication speeds the production of white blood cells, which help patients stay healthy and prevent complications so they can continue with treatments. “Maintaining the treatment schedule has been associated with better outcomes,” said Rella.

Compassionate care is top priority

But what sets Danbury Hospital apart from other institutions, said Scully, is its compassionate staff—from the calming voice of the nurse practitioner to the reassuring advice of physicians to the caring volunteers.

“I have been blessed with family and good doctors,” she said. “This experience is just a little bump in the road.”

About Danbury Hospital

Danbury Hospital is a 371-bed regional medical center and university teaching hospital associated with the University of Vermont College of Medicine, the Yale University School of Medicine, the Connecticut School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center. The hospital provides centers of excellence in cardiovascular services, cancer, weight loss surgery, orthopedics, digestive disorders, radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for sleep disorders and asthma management. Medical staff members are board-certified in their specialties, and most serve on the faculty of the nation’s finest medical centers offering a higher level of experience.

The Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital is dedicated to caring for people who are diagnosed with cancer, personalizing their treatment plans based on the recommendations of multidisciplinary case review teams. Our cancer patients benefit from the latest diagnostic and treatment technologies and a full spectrum of outpatient and in-hospital oncologic services that includes dedicated emotional and practical support. A Cancer Care Coordinator works with patients from diagnosis onward to help navigate the sometimes confusing or overwhelming aspects of cancer treatment.




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