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LVHN Health Tips: What you need to know about colorectal cancer

Many people were shocked when actor Chadwick Boseman died in 2020 at age 43. His death brought awareness to colorectal cancer, the third most diagnosed form of cancer (excluding skin cancer) in the United States.

Fortunately, colorectal cancer can be prevented and treated when caught early.

“Screening for colorectal cancer is important because it allows us to either prevent cancer from developing or to detect it at an early stage when it is much more treatable,” says colon and rectal surgeon Joshua Nochumson, MD, with Lehigh Valley Physician Group (LVPG) Surgery–Health & Wellness Center in Hazle Township. “Knowing the facts about colorectal cancer can save your life.”

Know your risks

Colorectal cancer is highly curable if caught early; however, there are often no early warning signs.

“Like some other types of cancer, there aren’t really any early symptoms that warn people of the disease. That’s why it’s important for people to know their risks for colorectal cancer and when they should be screened,” says general surgeon Michael Mahoney, DO, with LVPG Surgery–Health & Wellness Center.

Some of the risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

• Age – As you age, your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases.

• Lifestyle – Some lifestyle factors, such as obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use and lack of exercise may increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer.

• Family history – If you have a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, you are much more likely to develop it yourself.

• Certain health conditions – Your chances for developing colorectal cancer increase if you have certain health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or Crohn’s disease.

Don’t put off your screening

Unlike other forms of cancer, colorectal cancer can actually be prevented and not just diagnosed through regular colonoscopies.

Most individuals should start getting screened at age 45 and get it done every 10 years; however, if you have a family history of the disease or other risk factors, you may be encouraged to start screening earlier.

During screenings, doctors can find and remove polyps before they turn cancerous. Colonoscopies are also crucial for detecting colorectal cancer early, when it is most treatable.

“National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time to find out if you are due for a colonoscopy and schedule one if needed,” Mahoney says. “It could save your life.”

Get more information about colorectal screening at LVHN.org/colonoscopy.

Managing Stress During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For many people, daily life looks a lot different than it did before early 2020. Some of us are still adjusting to working remotely or hybrid, and some are helping children transition back to in-person classes. Others are still on the frontline working long hours.

In a time like this, it’s natural to feel stressed, anxious or concerned.

“Fear and uncertainty are normal responses to a time like this,” says psychiatrist Susan Wiley, MD, Supervisor, Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Center for Mindfulness.

How to handle stress

Managing your stress starts by taking care of yourself so you can be at your best for your loved ones, friends and colleagues. Here are some tips to help reduce stress:

Adopt a voice of reassurance

Learn to speak to yourself with a voice of kindness. When you offer yourself words of encouragement, it is more likely that you will be able to extend compassion to others. In this challenging time, it’s easy to become worn out and frustrated with all the added pressures.

“We are never at our best when we are feeling frightened. We tend to be reactive, short-tempered, blameful and selfish,” Wiley says.

Practice self-compassion. Offer yourself reassurance in the same gentle voice you use with a beloved child, elder or pet.

Support and help one another

Stay connected with your family and friends. Whether it’s a home-cooked meal, a phone call or quality time together, shared experiences benefit all involved. “We can be at our best by linking arms proverbially, reaching out to friends and neighbors, and offering support and assistance to one another,” Wiley says.

Find your inner peace with breathing activity

Try practicing mindfulness. Allow yourself to live in the moment by focusing solely on the present. “There is a natural place of calm inside us all, even in the worst storm. It’s always there. The problem is finding our way to it,” Wiley says.

Reach out to your health care partner

Stress may become severe and sustained over time. Psychiatrist Courtney Chellew, DO, with LVPG Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry–Muhlenberg and Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, recommends contacting a mental health professional if there is persistent disturbance in your ability to function and to enjoy life.

If you have a preexisting mental health condition, it is best to:

• Continue seeking care

• Be aware of any worsening symptoms

Remind yourself that we are all in the same situation

You are not alone. This health crisis is something we are all going through. We share this burden with everyone. No one is excluded. “We are in this boat together. We are stronger when we work as partners,” Wiley says.

For more information about mindfulness at LVHN, visit LVHN.org/mindfulness.

Lehigh Valley Health Network doctors, like colon and rectal surgeon Joshua Nochumson, say early detection is key in colorectal cancer. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS