Alexandra D Regular Screenings and Checkups Cut Colorectal Cancer Risk

"I’ve learned that it’s important to get checkups regularly and call the doctor immediately if you’re in pain.”

When Alexandra Diglio, of West Long Branch, began experiencing digestive issues in June 2011, she assumed she was simply experiencing the same discomfort her mother had later in life. The healthy 70-year-old changed her diet but her digestive issues continued and six months later, she began experiencing pain.

Never one to run to the doctor for minor aches and pains, Alexandra eventually gave in and made a doctor’s appointment. Despite urging from siblings and family members to request an earlier appointment, Alexandra decided to tough it out.

“I thought, I had waited this long, what was a few more weeks,” she said. “That turned out to be a mistake.”

Alexandra finally saw internist Jeffrey C. Lederman, D.O., in June – nearly a year after she began experiencing issues. In that same month, based on urging from Dr. Lederman, Alexandra saw gastroenterologist Ben Terrany, M.D., underwent her first colonoscopy and had been referred to board-certified colorectal surgeon Michael Arvanitis, M.D., Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery and Medical Director of the Patricia Burton Colorectal Cancer Program at Monmouth Medical Center.

Within days of the colonoscopy, Dr. Arvanitis had Alexandra’s test results: her pain was the result of advanced Stage III rectal cancer.

Dr. Arvanitis, with Sang E. Sim, M.D., radiation oncologist, and Seth Cohen, M.D., medical oncologist, both of the Leon Hess Cancer Center at Monmouth Medical Center, immediately mapped out a treatment plan for Alexandra. Additionally, Dr. Arvanitis presented Alexandra’s case at the Gastrointestinal Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference – a unique forum of the colorectal program at Monmouth that provides surgeons, radiation oncologists, radiologists, pathologists, medical oncologists, residents and medical students with the opportunity to evaluate, discuss and collectively determine proper courses of treatment.

Alexandra would undergo neoadjuvant treatment – a five to six-week course of chemotherapy with Dr. Cohen – and radiation therapy with Dr. Sim, followed by a waiting period of eight weeks before finally undergoing surgery to remove the tumor.

“Alexandra responded very well to the chemo and radiation but had a small cluster of residual cancer which we removed during surgery,” said Dr. Arvanitis. “Dr. Cohen treated Alexandra with another six months of chemo which was completely successful in treating her cancer.”

In April 2013, less than two years after her pain began and 10 months after her cancer diagnosis, Alexandra was ruled cancer free. While the journey was difficult, Alexandra was able to stay positive through it all and now uses her story as a reminder to others.

“I never thought the digestive issues and pain I had were cancer. My husband, siblings and their spouses always got colonoscopies beginning at age 50, but I didn’t – I operated under the assumption that if it wasn’t broken, why try to fix it,” she says. “While I can’t regret it now, I’ve learned that it’s important to get checkups regularly and call the doctor immediately if you’re in pain.”

Dr. Arvanitis agrees wholeheartedly with Alexandra’s words. “Universal screenings for men and women, even those with average risk factors, are extremely important,” he says. “Unlike Alexandra, most patients with colorectal cancer have no symptoms. When colonoscopies are performed regularly, we can identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous.”

For more information on the Patricia Burton Colorectal Cancer Center at the Leon Hess Cancer Center at Monmouth Medical Center, call 1-888-724-7123.