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High school students watch colon cancer surgery in real time

March 1, 2018

Students Students Dr. Shady Ashamalla Students Students in the Simulation Centre

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Grade 10 students were recently invited to research colorectal cancer and develop a video or graphic to raise awareness about prevention and screening, and were given a unique opportunity at Sunnybrook in return.

In a pilot project with Bill Hogarth Secondary School, all students who entered the competition were invited to Sunnybrook to view colorectal cancer surgery (a minimally invasive colon resection) live via video hook up with Dr. Shady Ashamalla, renowned surgeon and educator. Dr. Ashamalla explained what he doing each step of the way, and answered students’ questions in real time.

“The surgery wasn’t actually as gross as I thought it would be,” said Grade 10 student Madeleine Dupuis. “We could see the surgeon’s tools so close up. It was neat to see how the surgeons work inside such a small space in the body — they pump air into the stomach to create more room to work.”

“It was really amazing to watch the surgery step by step,” said Sierra Wild, age 15. “At one point I had a question about if the patient would feel any pain, and I was able to ask the surgeon right away.”

Sierra said she was also surprised to learn that making healthy lifestyle choices not only reduces the risk of getting cancer, it also can impact the outcome of your surgery when treated.

Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumour that starts in the cells of the colon or rectum. Malignant means it is a cancerous tumour that can grow and spread. This cancer is highly treatable if caught early.

“As a leader in cancer care and in education, Sunnybrook is continually look for ways to engage our community, including high school students,” Dr. Ashamalla said. “This project allowed us to raise awareness about colon cancer prevention, and hopefully turn these students into junior experts on the topic. My hope is they go home and tell their parents and others about the importance of positive lifestyle changes and colorectal cancer screening.”

Dr. Ashamalla said giving the students an opportunity to see surgery and visit other areas of the hospital, like the Simulation Centre, Anatomic Pathology, and several research labs, would hopefully spur an interest in science, technology, engineering or math careers.

Casey Daleman, Bill Hogarth Secondary School head of science, agreed.

“This was an amazing experience for our students to see surgery, talk to a surgeon as well as other healthcare professionals at the hospital,” she said. "And it was a great opportunity for students to learn about careers in the Health and Wellness sector and get an introduction to the Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) program."

View the winning infographic:

Produced by Madeleine and Zoe, students at Bill Hogarth Secondary School, as part of a competition to raise awareness about colorectal cancer prevention and screening. Click the image to expand.

Colorectal infographic. Read a simple text version below.

Read a simple text version of this infographic

Do you know your butt?
One simple test could save your life

What is colorectal cancer?
Your colon is found in you digestive system, part of the large instensive. Growths called ademonatous polyps can begin forming in the lining of your colon, and after time these growths can become cancerous.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer include but are not limited to:
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Changes in stool consistency
Warning: many people diagnosed with colorectal cancer do not experience any symptoms.

A colonoscopy is a simple procedure to check if you have colorectal cancer. It is recommended for some people over age 50. A camera is used to look at the interior of the colon. If polyps are found, they are removed.

People who exercise regularly, eat healthy and refrain from smoking tobacco are less likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable cancers in Canada, but is one of the most common. It is important to get tested, as the procedure can be life-saving. Talk to your doctor for more information.

Get tested today!