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Doctor finds fulfillment in fighting cancer

When the young Sanjay Parikh was growing up, he always assumed he'd be a doctor just like everyone else in his family. The only question was, "What kind?"

Since he loved children, he decided on pediatrics. But it was his love for children that caused him to leave that field. He and his wife, Amita, also a physician, were practicing in a remote area of India.

"The mortality rate was so high. Children were dying left and right," Dr. Parikh said. "It was so depressing I knew I had to do something else."

When he came to the United States in 1989, he served as chief resident of internal medicine at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City. Then, a cousin (you know, one of those "family" doctors) suggested he switch to gastroenterology.

In 1999, Parikh moved to Gwinnett County and joined the staff of Atlanta Gastroenterology Associates. He now saves lives by performing colonoscopies, and very rarely does he treat a child.

"Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death, next to lung cancer," Parikh said.

More people die from colorectal cancer than from breast cancer and AIDS combined. But this doesn't have to be the case. Colonoscopies can drastically reduce this statistic.

"Unlike mammograms or pap smears that merely detect cancer, a colonoscopy can actually help prevent the disease," Parikh said.

In the 1,000 or so colonoscopies he performs each year, about 30 percent of them reveal polyps, which he can remove on the spot and help prevent the onset of cancer. Very rarely has Parikh lost a patient to colorectal cancer.

"I try to encourage people to be aware that colon cancer is preventable and treatable if caught early," he said.

Parikh points out that a good diet is the best preventative method, but there are other contributing factors. Everyone should schedule a colonoscopy at age 50. However, if there is a history of cancer in the family, or if a patient is of black descent, he advises the procedure at age 40.

He assures patients there is nothing to fear. The preparation, now merely a matter of taking pills with a clear liquid, is much more palatable than it was in the past. The sedation method is pure state-of-the-art, as is the microscopic camera, which provides the patient with "souvenir photos" of the procedure.

Though most of his patients are older, Parikh still incorporates his love of children into his practice. He tells parents, grandparents, godparents and anyone who will listen how important it is, for the sake of colorectal cancer prevention, to provide children with a healthy diet.

For more information, visit www.atlantagastro.com or www.cancer.org.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.