News from Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center

Dale Johnson is a retiree living in Lenior City. During a routine colonoscopy through his primary care physician, several polyps were discovered in his colon. Fortunately, the polyps were benign, meaning they were not cancerous. To be safe, Johnson underwent surgery to remove them and is thankful for the compassionate and expert colon care he received from Colon and Rectal Surgeon Dr. Sung Lee at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville.

Dale had surgery to remove a colon polyp to decrease his chance of cancer.

What is a Colonoscopy?

A colonoscopy is a procedure where the provider uses a long lighted tube to look at your rectum and entire colon with a small video camera. The provider looks for polyps or other abnormal areas that they may remove for further testing. This test usually requires sedation.

What is a Polyp?

Polyps are growths made up of fleshy clumps of tissue that form on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Small polyps are rarely cancerous, but over time, the cells in some polyp types can change and become cancer. The longer a polyp is there and the more it grows, the more likely this is to happen.

When Polyps Are Found

In spring of 2023, Johnson had a routine colonoscopy with his primary care provider. He has undergone this screening every five years since the age of 50, but nothing has been discovered before.

This time, the doctor discovered four polyps that needed to be removed. During the test, the doctor removed three of the four polyps; colonoscopies are both diagnostic and can allow for intervention if the doctor finds anything out of the ordinary. One of Johnson’s polyps required a more extensive surgery, so he was referred to Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

There, Johnson met Sung Lee, MD, a colorectal surgeon with Premier Surgical Associates at Fort Sanders Regional. A biopsy revealed his growths were not cancerous, news to which his family rejoiced. However, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Sidestepping Cancer

Dr. Sung Lee, Colon and Rectal Surgeon

“He told me I’d need surgery and that the growth needed to come out, whether it was cancerous or not,” Johnson recalls.

Dr. Lee explains, “This surgical procedure was recommended to make sure there were no cancerous cells underneath. If you leave polyps for a long time, they can become cancerous.”

“Most colorectal cancers start as polyps,” says Dr. Lee. “These are growths caused by changes in the cells that line the inside of the colon or rectum. Over time, the polyps can become cancerous. Finding and removing polyps while they’re small may stop cancer from ever forming.”

Colorectal cancers most often start when cells in a polyp start growing abnormally. As a cancerous tumor grows, it can invade the deeper layers of the colon or rectal wall. Over time, the cancer can grow beyond the colon or rectum and into nearby organs or lymph nodes and other parts of the body. Regular screenings can prevent cancer from forming or detect it in its early stages.

At Fort Sanders Regional

In May 2023, Johnson underwent a robotic-assisted colectomy to remove one polyp approximately 20 mm in size. He received a few small incisions on the right side of his abdomen and spent one night in the hospital.

Dr. Lee explains this procedure included removing 29 cm of the patient’s colon, which is called a resection (and the remaining ends are connected together for regular bowel function).

“Using robot guided technology, I go in with an instrument and make only a few incisions. Patients do very well with this minimally invasive technique. No big incisions are needed, and I do everything on the inside. The risk of complications, bleeding, and developing a hernia is much lower, the hospital stay is shorter, and often the patient has less pain during recovery.”

“I met Dr. Lee several times before the surgery,” Johnson says. “He told me a lot of things that could happen, including the risks of surgery. He told me they were going to operate as if it were cancerous, and that he’d take enough out so it likely wouldn’t show up later.”

Johnson had no complications or issues with recovery. “I liked Dr. Lee a lot – he explained everything very well,” he says. “I was treated extremely well, and all the nurses and everyone at the hospital were great.”

“He did great. He was a very nice guy,” says Dr. Lee. “When a patient is doing well, I let them go home as soon as possible. To be cleared, they must be able to eat and drink without nausea or vomiting. I check on their pain level and bowel function before they go home.”

Recovered and Feeling Great

Johnson is feeling great and in good health. He is following up with his primary care provider for his next colonoscopy to stay on top of any future issues. He enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren and attending their ball games.

“I’m 74, and I got to take care of what I got left,” he says with a laugh. “I had my appendix out when I was 15, and boy that left a big scar. These are tiny scars you wouldn’t even notice.” He would heartily recommend Dr. Lee and Fort Sanders Regional to anyone who needs surgery or getting checked out.

Importance of Screenings

According to Dr. Lee, polyps in the colorectal area are very common. “Most Americans have them. That’s why we recommend screening colonoscopies so we can keep watch or remove any cell tissue before it becomes a problem. Most of the time, the polyps can be removed during your colonoscopy, and you don’t need another surgery.”

Although it’s common, many people do not show any symptoms of colon polyps until they become very large. This may cause bleeding, changes in your bowel habits, blood in your stool, or abdominal pain. It’s important to report any of these symptoms to your doctor so they can determine next steps.

The American Cancer Society and U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advise people at average risk for colorectal cancer start screening at age 45.

Dr. Lee says screenings will be recommended every 10 years or sooner, depending on each individual’s risk for colorectal cancer. “If polyps are present, it could be every five years. If you have multiple polyps, you may be asked to repeat the test every year, every three years, or even every six months.”

Dr. Sung Lee is a fellowship-trained Colon and Rectal Surgeon with Premier Surgical at Fort Sanders Regional in Knoxville, TN. He is board-certified in Colon and Rectal, and General Surgery. To learn more about colon and rectal surgeries, visit Premier Surgical Colon and Rectal Surgery.