Collier Edition

You only have ONE colon – take care of it

By Randall Kenneth Jones

In February 2000, President Clinton officially named March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Since then, patients, survivors, care givers and advocates have continued to spread colon cancer awareness by wearing blue, sponsoring fundraising and  education events, and spreading the word about the critical importance of colorectal screening.

Physicians Regional Healthcare System is the home to several highly skilled, board certified gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons. At one time or another, chances are good that most the population will have to interact with one of these professional—or should if they have chosen not to do so.

To explain: Medical professionals specializing in gastroenterology diagnose and treat conditions of the digestive tract affecting the stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, liver, small intestines, colon (large intestines), rectum and the ducts between all these organs.

Gastroenterologists are trained in general internal medicine; however, they also receive additional training in gastroenterology, or disorders of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Colorectal surgeons train in the surgical treatment of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. The primary difference between a colorectal surgeon and a gastroenterologist is quite literally in the name: Colorectal surgeons typically provide surgical treatments.

One noteworthy is example is Dr. Anthony Vernava.

Dr. Vernava is part of Physicians Regional Medical Group, the multi-
specialty group practice affiliated with Physicians Regional Healthcare System. He is a board-certified colorectal surgeon and has been in practice for over 20 years. He has been part of the Physicians Regional family since 1999 when Physicians Regional was still known as the Cleveland Clinic.

True, Dr. Vernava left Southwest Florida for six months in 2005, but his love of our community brought him back. It seems that Rochester, New York, simply paled (quite literally) next to sunny Southwest Florida.

Though March has been set aside to raise awareness of colorectal cancer, understanding the facts about the disease deserve our collective attention 12 months out of the year. Please see Sidebar.

Like any reputable surgeon, Dr. Vernava prefers to avoid surgical intervention unless it is absolutely necessary. However, there are those times when an actual surgical procedure cannot be avoided.

Examples may include:
• Diverticulitis
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
• Colon Cancer
• Rectal Cancer

Surgery to remove all or part of the colon is known as a colectomy, and rectal cancer surgery to remove part or all or the rectum is known as a rectal resection.

Perhaps the most fascinating advancement is the recent release of the latest and greatest in surgical technology, the da Vinci Xi robot.

The da Vinci Surgical System enables surgeons to perform operations through a few small incisions. It features a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far beyond the abilities of the human hand.

The da Vinci Xi robot enables a surgeon to operate with enhanced vision, precision and control; nevertheless, the surgeon is 100% in control of the da Vinci System at all times throughout the procedure.

Dr. Vernava has been using the various iterations of the da Vinci robot for over 10 years. Though the system has provided exceptional benefits to physicians and patients, Dr. Vernava also warns that the learning curve for operating the system can be a long one. Just because a facility has a da Vinci robot does not mean they have the experienced staff necessary to maximize the benefit to the patient.

“You have to have a well-trained team that is used to setting up and using the robot in order to help the surgeon be successful,” says Dr. Vernava. “This is certainly the case at Physicians Regional.”

Physicians Regional Healthcare System was the first medical facility in our area to offer surgery using the da Vinci Xi.

Dr. Vernava describes the benefits of robotic surgery as “less invasive with less blood loss. The physician sees more and the patient goes home sooner.” In the case of traditional surgery, the average length of stay is 8 – 10 days; however, with the da Vinci Xi robot, the length of hospital stays are typically drastically reduced.

Though countless area patients have wisely sought the advice of a skilled gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon, many still have not. Please join Dr. Vernava and Physicians Regional Healthcare System in spreading the word.  Plan to attend a physician panel event designed to educate the public on GI conditions and treatment options, along with time for questions and answers by a panel of experts.  The event takes place on Saturday, March 18th, starting at 8am at Physicians Regional – Pine Ridge.  Register online at

By taking action, you may help save a life.
What could possibly be more important than that?

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist or colorectal surgeon, please call Physicians Regional Healthcare System at 239-348-4221.

Colorectal Cancer
Awareness Fast Facts
. Risk increases with age. More than 90% of colorectal cancers occur in people aged 50 and older.
. Precancerous polyps and colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important. If you have symptoms, they may include—
– Blood in or on the stool (bowel movement).
– Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that do not go away.
– Losing weight and you don’t know why.

These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. If you have any of them, see your doctor.
. Some people are at a higher risk than others for developing colorectal cancer. If you think you may be at high risk, talk to your doctor about when and how often to get tested.
. There are several screening test options. Talk with your doctor about which is right for you.
– Colonoscopy (every 10 years).
– High-sensitivity guaiac fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) (every year).
– Sigmoidoscopy (every 10 years, with FOBT or FIT every three years).
– Sigmoidoscopy alone (every 5 years).
– Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA) every one or three years.
– CT colonography (or virtual colonoscopy) every five years.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –

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