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Health Information A Family Affair

Cancer was no stranger to Sandy's family. Both her father and grandfather died of colon cancer at a young age. So Sandy wasted no time making an appointment to see a doctor when she began passing blood about eight years ago. Sandy was referred to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago about a month later, after a colonoscopy revealed colorectal polyps due to  familial polyposis, a genetic disease that predisposes people to colon cancer--virtually 100 percent of those with the condition eventually develop cancer.

Thinking she might be eligible for an innovative procedure called a J-pouch operation, her physician referred Sandy to Theodore Saclarides, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Rush skilled in a wide range of surgical approaches to treating colon and rectal cancer. With the J-pouch procedure, a surgeon removes the colon and rectum, but is able to preserve the anus and sphincter. However, because Dr. Saclarides found a cancerous tumor in her lower bowel, Sandy was not a candidate for the J-pouch procedure. Dr. Saclarides instead performed a more extensive surgery that involved removal of the colon. Sandy had additional anticancer treatment after she healed from the surgery.

Her own surgery behind her, Sandy addressed her family history of cancer and the implications for her four children.

Familial polyposis is an inherited disease. There is about a 50 percent chance that someone with familial polyposis will pass the condition down to a child. Because of this risk, Dr. Saclarides advised Sandy to have three of her four children tested for the condition immediately. Her youngest child was too young to be tested at the time. Tests revealed that all three of Sandy's adolescent children had the condition.

Dr. Saclarides immediately scheduled them for surgery--all on the very same day. The kids did well with the surgery--even competing with each other afterward to see who would get better faster. The surgery helps to lower the risk of cancer by removing 90 percent of the colon. After the surgery, patients undergo regular endoscopic examinations to watch for signs of cancer.

It was a tough situation for the family, made easier by Rush's Magnet designated nurses, including twins Margaret Richard, RN, and Nancy McGuire, RN. As twin sisters, they understood the importance of family togetherness and worked hard to make the children's stay as comfortable as possible--even if it meant facilitating video game competitions and sibling races down the halls during their recovery.

Today, these three kids are grown and living normal lives as young adults. One is in high school, one in college and the other engaged to be married. They come back to Rush once a year for check ups. Ultimately, tests showed that Sandy's fourth child did not inherit the colon cancer gene.

Sandy came back to Rush several years after her original procedure to be treated by urologist Christopher Coogan, MD, for a desmoid tumor. Desmoid tumors are benign growths that sometimes develop in people with polyposis. Although these tumors do not spread to other parts of the body as cancer does, they can grow very large and cause serious damage to surrounding tissues. In Sandy's case, the tumor was obstructing her kidney.

Because chemotherapy was not effective, Sandy underwent successful treatment with the drug tamoxifen. Dr. Coogan later treated one of Sandy's daughters for a similar growth, which required surgery instead of the tamoxifen treatment her mother underwent. They're both doing well now--as is the entire family.

With the help of their team at Rush, Sandy and her family now truly understand the importance of genetic screening. They, in turn, have encouraged other relatives to be tested. The kids and Sandy know that Rush will be a part of their lives--and their future generations--for years to come.


To watch a video about Sandy and her family, visit the www.RushStories.org Web site.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For more information about colon cancer care at Rush visit our Colorectal Cancer Care home page.
  • For more information about cancer care at Rush visit our Cancer Programs home page.
  • For information about complementary care to support you during cancer treatment, visit our Cancer Integrative Medicine Program home page.
  • For more information on the genetic disease discussed in the article, visit the Familial Polyposis page in our health library.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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