Ten years ago, Eatontown resident Catherine Sanderson was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis — a debilitating disease that causes abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, as well as anemia and fatigue. While treatment for ulcerative colitis depends on the severity of the disease, about 25 percent to 40 percent of patients must eventually have their colons removed because of massive bleeding, severe illness, rupture of the colon, or risk of cancer. For ulcerative colitis patients like Sanderson, the risk of developing cancer becomes the deciding factor in choosing surgery.
“I underwent many colonoscopies to monitor for signs of cancer, until I developed signs of dysplasia” she said, referring to an abnormal growth and development of colon cells that is considered a precursor to cancer. People with ulcerative colitis are most at risk for developing colon cancer from dysplasia, and although Sanderson notes that medications had curbed her symptoms “a bit,” she said she opted for surgery “rather than waiting and worrying.” Last June, she underwent a laparoscopic colectomy — the surgical removal of the colon through several tiny incisions — performed by Michael Arvanitis, M.D., FACS, section chief of colon and rectal surgery at Monmouth Medical Center.
“I didn’t want to gamble or worry about when cancer would develop, and if it would be caught in time,” she said. “Dr. Arvanitis provided me with all of my treatment options, but I decided I would rather be safe than sorry.”
Since laparoscopic colectomy was introduced at Monmouth nearly 20 years ago, the hospital became one of the first in New Jersey to plan laparoscopic colectomy for all elective cases, beginning in 2001. Monmouth's colorectal surgeons have performed more than 1,000 procedures — making Monmouth Medical Center a leading facility in the state for this type of cutting-edge surgery.
“This procedure is proving extremely effective in treating diseases of the colon,” says Dr. Arvanitis, who performs the procedure by inserting a laparoscope and special instruments through tiny abdominal incisions. “Because of our experience in this sophisticated technique, a growing number of patients are becoming candidates for the procedure, reducing their risk for complications that can result from open surgery.”
For Sanderson, her recovery included a second surgery known as the ileoanal reservoir, or J-Pouch procedure — a surgical treatment option for patients who have had their large intestine removed. Ileoanal reservoir surgery is a widely accepted part of the surgical treatment for ulcerative colitis or familial polyposis because it eliminates the disease, gives the patient control of bowel movements and does not require a permanent ileostomy, or colostomy bag. “I went back to work a month after the reversal surgery, and felt great,” says Sanderson, a 52-year-old accountant at Fort Monmouth who underwent the procedure last August.
Noting the anxiety that accompanied her ulcerative colitis symptoms, and the flare-ups that often interfered with her day-to day life, Sanderson, who was recently divorced with a young daughter and son at the time of her diagnosis, recalls how stressful the disease was for her family. But the biggest benefit she says is being worry-free about cancer.
“I never have to undergo another colonoscopy,” Sanderson adds, noting that at one point she underwent four within six months. “My experience with Dr. Arvanitis and Monmouth Medical Center was great. The surgical residents who assisted Dr. Arvanitis were wonderful too, and I felt like they all really cared about me.”
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