Robotic colon surgery keeps award-winning teacher at the head of her class

Advantages for patients include less blood loss, less need for narcotics after surgery and fewer patients with colostomy bags.
WYNNEWOOD, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Although colorectal cancer rates have been dropping, because more people are getting screened, it remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

A Delaware women has avoided cancer because she had a colonoscopy - and did her research.

Diane Cox makes no bones about her love of teaching.

"I even love 7th graders, absolutely love 7th graders. I have a passion for literature and I teach English language arts," she said.

In fact, Diane was named a Superstar in Education in Delaware for her Titanic Reading Program.

But when a colonoscopy revealed a large non-cancerous polyp, the doctor's advice left this outgoing teacher speechless.

"A part of my colon would be taken out, I'd have a large incision on my abdomen. I'd have a six to eight week recovery. I'd be in the hospital at least a week," said Diane. "I was devastated. I didn't want to miss all that school."

Knowing such radical surgery could cause long-term problems, she began researching alternatives.

It led her to Dr. John Marks of Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line Health, who specializes in robotic, minimally-invasive surgery.

"We can cure the cancer through tiny incisions, an inch or less, or no incisions at all," said Dr. Marks.

He says the technology gives him better control in the crowded confines of the abdomen.

"The beauty of minimally invasive surgery and robotic surgery is you have a fantastic image quality, you have three dimensional imaging and you can see things. You can angle the instruments to get around corners," he said.

Advantages for patients include less blood loss, less need for transfusions, less need for narcotic painkillers after surgery and fewer patients with colostomy bags.

"Our rate is somewhere around 7% of patients need that. Around the country, it's 20% to 40%," said Dr. Marks.

Dr. Marks and his partner do about 95% of their colon operations with the minimally invasive approach, almost twice the national rate.

Patients come from around the world - as do doctors wanting to learn it.

Dr. Marks was able to remove Diane's large, non-cancerous polyp through a natural body opening, the anus.

"The surgery was Thursday. Friday I left the hospital. Saturday, I tutored students," said Diane. "I went right back to my Diamond State Tutoring service."

She said she has no scars on her body. Two days later Diane was even back in class, glad she had her colonoscopy, and glad she did her homework on surgical options.

"Get your colonoscopy, definitely," she said.

Dr. Marks puts it into a bigger picture, "If everybody had a colonoscopy this year, we could eliminate colon cancer."

Although the highest peaks for colorectal cancer is between ages 50 and 70, Dr. Marks said we've seen it kind of trend into a younger group, which is what makes doctors concerned.

Since the 1990s, colorectal cancer rates have doubled among those under 50, as have deaths in that age group.
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