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Published on March 16, 2017

A test in time helps save a life

As far as Judith Hoffman is concerned, Steven Lichtenstein, DO, a gastroenterologist at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, saved her life.

Judith HoffmanIt was early in 2015 when Judith came to Dr. Lichtenstein’s office as a follow-up from a hospital stay. During that office visit, Dr. Lichtenstein asked the 64-year-old from Southwest Philadelphia a crucial question.

“He asked me if I’d ever had a colonoscopy,” Judith says, “And I told him I had not. So he suggested I get one done.”

She scheduled the colonoscopy with Dr. Lichtenstein, who is also the Medical Director of Digestive Health Services at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital. After the procedure was done, she learned he had removed a large suspicious growth from the wall of her colon.

The pathology report called it “an advanced precancerous polyp.”

“I said, ‘Oh my God. I came in just in time,’” Judith says. “It was dangerously close to cancer.”

Cured by a colonoscopy

“Most colon cancers start as a polyp,” Dr. Lichtenstein explains. “But there are different stages of precancerous polyps. Mrs. Hoffman’s showed high-grade dysplasia cells. Those kinds of cells are only one hair away from being cancer.”

There are different ways to screen for colon cancer. But a colonoscopy is considered the gold standard of tests—and Judith’s case shows why. It’s the only test that views the entire colon. And if any polyps are found, they can be removed during the test.

That means a colonoscopy does more than look for signs of cancer—it can prevent cancer from occurring.

Six months after removing the polyp, Dr. Lichtenstein did another colonoscopy on Judith. It showed no signs of cancer.

“Mrs. Hoffman was cured by the scope,” Dr. Lichtenstein says. “She’s very lucky. She didn’t need any radiation or surgery, the typical treatments for colon cancer.”

“I don’t have to go back for three years,” Judith says. “That’s how successful the colonoscopy was.”

‘A very easy thing to do’

Most people should have their first colonoscopy when they turn age 50. African Americans should have their first test at age 45 because they are at higher risk for colorectal cancer.

Judith knew she should have had the test earlier. She just never got around to it.

“That’s not unusual,” Dr. Lichtenstein says. “People often say they knew about it but didn’t do it.”

Sometimes people are put off by the preparation for the test, which requires taking laxatives to clean out the bowel. But Judith didn’t think it was bad at all.

“It was a very, very easy thing to do,” she says. “It seemed like the test itself took only five minutes, and I didn’t feel a thing.

“It’s a lot better than getting cancer,” she adds.

Judith has two grown children.

“So I’m on them to make sure they get the test when they turn 45. They’re nowhere near that age now, but I’ll stay on them,” she says.

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