July 11, 2020

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Family Tells Story of Fighting Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer

Most families expect to share many memories together. What they never plan to share, however, is a diagnosis of cancer — or pre-cancer, in the case of Janet Langley, who recently told her story of colorectal cancer in an article published by MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown.

Janet, 46, started to have stomach pains last summer. She went to multiple doctors to try to find out what was causing them before arriving at the office of Dr. U.K. Shah, board-certified gastroenterologist at MedStar Shah Medical Group. Dr. Shah administered multiple tests to look for the source of her discomfort.

“At the same time I was experiencing this, my father had similar symptoms,” said Janet, who lives in Solomons. “He went in for a colonoscopy and found out he had colon cancer. I had a colonoscopy myself just to make sure that had nothing to do with what I had going on.”

Seen by many adults as an uncomfortable but necessary rite of passage in middle age, colonoscopies are procedures in which a clinician uses a flexible instrument to examine images of the rectum and colon. The procedure can reveal swollen and irritated tissue, ulcers, and polyps — common growths that involve the lining of the bowel.

Somewhere between 15 and 40 percent of adults may have polyps, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and most are not particularly dangerous. However, some polyps can turn cancerous over time. Removing them can help prevent colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the US.

Testing showed a large polyp in the bend of Janet’s colon. Because of its location, it could not be removed during the colonoscopy or another procedure called a polyp resection.

Janet was referred to Dr. Tushar Samdani, colorectal surgeon at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. At the same time, Dr. Samdani was treating Janet’s father, J.C. Tubbs, for colorectal cancer.

For people who are at average risk, colorectal screenings are recommended to begin at the age of 50 by the US Preventive Services Task Force. At just 46, Janet — with no known history of colon cancer until her father’s concurrent diagnosis — would not have been flagged to be tested.

Janet had surgery to remove the polyp in 2018. A subsequent biopsy confirmed it was an adenoma — a precancerous growth.

“If I had waited, it would have definitely been cancer,” Janet said. “And I feel very fortunate because I probably would not have followed up attempting to remove the polyp if my dad hadn’t been going through the same thing. I would have procrastinated, and it’s a good thing I didn’t.”

“Around 10 to 20 percent of patients who develop colorectal cancer have other family members who have had it. Patients with a history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) are at twice the increased risk,” said Dr. Samdani in an article published by MedStar St. Mary’s. “The risk is even greater if the relative was diagnosed when they were younger than 45, or if more than one first-degree relative is affected.

“It is important that patients with colorectal cancer or even precancerous (adenomatous) polyps inform their close relatives so that they can talk with their doctor about starting screening at an earlier age,” he continued. “With regular screening, colon cancer can often be found early when it is most likely to be treated successfully.”

These days, Janet and J.C. are both doing well. They will continue to have regular screenings to monitor any polyps that could develop.

“The colonoscopy itself was simple compared to the preparation for it,” Janet said. The cleansing process necessary to ensure a clear view during a colonoscopy can be challenging for patients, but Janet said the discomfort is “well worth it.”

“If I could convince somebody to just get beyond that preparation, the rest is just to breathe,” she continued. “It’s all worth it if you consider what could happen if you didn’t catch a problem in time.”

Visit MedStarStMarys.org/Colon to learn more about the risk factors for colorectal cancer, including recommended screenings.

For more information and one-click access to a full list of resources available at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, visit its Leader member page.

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