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Advancing Care - March 2022

colonoscopy

 

Why you should start colon cancer screenings at age 45

The unexpected death of award-winning actor and playwright Chadwick Boseman at 43 to colon cancer in 2020 put a spotlight on a disease usually associated with older adults. According to experts, while the rates of colon cancer among older adults have dropped significantly over the past two decades thanks to screening protocols like colonoscopy, they are concerned that younger patients are not getting the screenings they need.

“For the last 20 years we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of individuals who develop colorectal cancer before the age of 50,” said Xavier Llor, MD, medical director, Colorectal Cancer Prevention Program at Smilow Cancer Hospital and professor of Medicine at Yale School of Medicine.

Given the increasing colorectal cancer rates among younger people, the American Cancer Society now recommends people at average risk of colorectal cancer begin regular screening at age 45. Some patients with a family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease may need to get screened earlier as well.

During a colonoscopy, a doctor uses a colonoscope, a long, flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the tip, to check for abnormal tissue in the large intestine. Sometimes, a small growth, called a polyp, can form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Although many polyps are benign (not cancerous), some become cancerous. Polyps can be removed during the colonoscopy to prevent possible progression of cancer. 

“Essentially, colon cancer is preventable,” said Bryan Burns, MD,  a gastroenterologist with Northeast Medical Group. “Every year people are diagnosed with colon cancer that could have been prevented if they had gone for a screening procedure a few years earlier and any polyps that were discovered had been removed before they become cancerous.”

During a colonoscopy, the patient is sedated and feels no pain. Most patients say preparing for the procedure is the hardest part, which includes a clear liquid diet and laxatives the day before. Others may feel uneasy about having a procedure of any kind, but physicians urge people not to let nerves deter them from getting the screening they need. 

“The preparation has gotten a lot easier in recent years. Many of my patients have said afterwards that it was easier than they thought,” said Dr. Burns. 

No matter what your age, it’s important to know common colorectal cancer symptoms. Most people don’t have any symptoms in the cancer’s early stages. The most common symptom is a change in bowel habits. You may notice blood in the stool, weight loss and abdominal pain or develop anemia. If you experience any of these signs, consult a physician. 

Dr. Llor advises everyone to speak with their doctor about screening for colon cancer. "Colorectal cancer screening saves lives, so please have your cancer screening,” he said.

Studies show that habits related to diet, weight and exercise are strongly linked to colorectal cancer risk. To minimize the risk of colorectal cancers: 

  • Eat lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Also, eat less red meat (beef, pork or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and luncheon meats), which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. 
  • Stay physically active. People who have a sedentary lifestyle may have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. 
  • Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer. Control your weight by eating healthier and exercising. 
  • Don’t smoke. Longtime smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop colorectal cancer. If you are ready to stop smoking, the Smilow Cancer Hospital Tobacco Treatment Program tailors treatment to your situation and tobacco use history. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, call 203-688-1378. 
  • Avoid alcohol. Studies show alcohol use is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Learn more about colon cancer screenings and prevention.

Find a doctor near you.

Three tips for a healthy heart

There are several things you can do at home to keep your heart healthy. Here are three tips from the Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center.

  1. Aim for 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most (if not all) days of the week.
  2. Know your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. Knowing these numbers can help identify any potential risk factors you may have for heart disease and stroke. If any of your numbers are out of range, it’s a good opportunity to have a discussion with your doctor about safe options to improve them.
  3. Maintain a good healthy weight through diet and exercise, or work on losing weight if you have weight to lose. Losing as little as 10 pounds can help improve your blood pressure and cholesterol and provide a number of other health benefits. Aim for progress, not perfection. 

Learn more about the Heart and Vascular Center.

Looking for support? We can help.

Everyone can use a little support now and then. Yale New Haven Hospital offers free virtual support groups for patients and their caregivers who are coping with illnesses and want to discuss their concerns. 

Support groups include:

  • Cancer support groups: A diagnosis of cancer can be stressful for you and your family. Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven offers many services, including support groups for patients and their families. Support groups provide the opportunity to receive emotional and educational support and to talk with others who are undergoing similar treatment or who have successfully completed treatment. Groups include: Bladder, Brain Tumors, Breast, Gastrointestinal (GI), Gynecologic, Head and Neck, Lung, Melanoma, Multiple Myeloma, Neuroendocrine, Pancreatic and Prostate. Support is also available for caregivers and those who have lost a spouse. Current patients, survivors and families are welcome. View the full list.

  • Transplantation support groups: Meetings for individuals considering, preparing for, and recovering from heart transplant surgery and stem cell transplant surgery.

  • Stroke support groups: Monthly support groups for stroke survivors and their caregivers are offered in New Haven and Milford. Call the YNHH Stroke Center at 203-737-1057 for details. 

  • Bariatric/weight-loss surgery support group: Individuals who are considering, preparing for, and working to stay on track after weight-loss surgery are welcome. Contact the group coordinator at 203-785-6060 for more information. 

  • Amputee support group: A monthly group for amputees, their caregivers, family and friends meets in the YNHH Rehabilitation and Wellness Center at the Bridgeport Hospital Milford Campus. Email Amy Mooney for details. 

  • Bereavement support groups: Yale New Haven Hospital provides bereavement services and support to families and friends after the loss of a loved one. For information, call 203-415-8940.

  • COVID-19 support: Grief during the time of COVID-19 is made even more difficult when social distancing guidelines hinder the expectations and traditions of loved ones. In collaboration with Palliative Care Service, the Bereavement Service at Yale New Haven Hospital offers monthly Virtual Bereavement Seminars and six-week Virtual General Bereavement Support Groups to provide education and support for understanding and managing your grief. To register, call 203-415-8940 or email your name and telephone number to Andrea Lucibello.

There’s an urgent need for blood donors 

A shortage of donors has left supplies of blood and blood products at dangerously low levels. The American Red Cross Connecticut and Rhode Island region encourages people to donate blood during what has become a regional and national crisis. 

Every day Yale New Haven Hospital uses 80 to 100 units of red blood cells, along with platelets and other blood products, to treat patients with a wide variety of health conditions and during emergencies. Christopher Tormey, MD, medical director, YNHH Transfusion Medicine Service, and professor, Laboratory Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, explained that the hospital follows strict protocols and procedures so that blood is not wasted and that hospitals always have enough for emergencies and procedures that require large quantities of blood.

About 75 percent of the blood the hospital uses is for patients with cancer and certain hematologic disorders that require transfusions. “We can’t plan for or postpone these transfusions,” Dr. Tormey said. 

While it’s rare for hospitals to postpone certain procedures, Blood Bank physicians discuss patient cases ahead of time with surgeons and other physicians to ensure there is enough blood to perform a procedure while maintaining a supply.

The Blood Bank also uses a “split” protocol for some patients. If a physician requests two units of blood, for example, the Blood Bank will send one unit. Patients are evaluated after receiving that one unit to see if it achieved the treatment goal.

Other blood conservation measures include using a “cell saver” device that collects the blood a patient normally loses during surgery, rinses away non-blood elements, and then separates the red cells, which are returned to the patient if needed.

These and other steps have helped ensure YNHHS has a steady blood supply, even during the current crisis. But blood is still needed – particularly type O positive – the most common blood type -- and O negative blood, which can be given to patients with any blood type.

The American Red Cross holds blood drives throughout Connecticut and the region. To make an appointment, visit redcrossblood.org.

Online classes for meditation and yoga 

Yale New Haven Hospital patients can relax, renew and rejuvenate in the comfort of their own home with specially designed classes offered online through Zoom. 

The free classes include gentle and restorative yoga, guided imagery mediation, chair-based exercise and T'ai Chi/Qigong. They are designed to guide you through stretching and strengthening exercises, mindful breathing practices and systematic relaxation that results in an overall improvement in health and well-being. No previous experience is necessary.

Classes are held throughout the week. Visit our events section to find and register for a class.

Find a Doc at YNHH

Are you looking for a physician? Call 888-700-6543 or visit our website’s Find a Doctor feature for information on physician specialties, office hours and locations as well as insurance plans accepted. Many of our physician practices offer telehealth video visits for your convenience. 

Billing questions?

Yale New Haven Hospital offers financial counseling to patients and families. Spanish-speaking counselors are also available. To make an appointment with a financial counselor, call 855-547-4584.