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  • January 14, 2022

    By Allison Larson, MD

    Whether you’re a winter sports enthusiast or spend the season curled up by the fireplace, the low humidity, bitter winds, and dry indoor heat that accompany cold weather can deplete your skin’s natural moisture. Dry skin is not only painful, uncomfortable, and irritating; it also can lead to skin conditions such as eczema, which results in itchy, red, bumpy skin patches. 


    Follow these six tips to prevent and treat skin damage caused by winter dryness.


    1. Do: Wear sunscreen all year long.

    UV rays can easily penetrate cloudy skies to dry out exposed skin. And when the sun is shining, snow and ice reflect its rays, increasing UV exposure. 


    Getting a sunburn can cause severe dryness, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. Snow or shine, apply sunscreen before participating in any outdoor activity during the winter—especially if you take a tropical vacation to escape the cold; your skin is less accustomed to sunlight and more likely to burn quickly.


    The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and offers a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.


    That being said, if you are considering laser skin treatments to reduce wrinkles, hair, blemishes, or acne scars, winter is a better time to receive these procedures. Sun exposure shortly after a treatment increases the risk of hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin), and people are less likely to spend time outside during the winter.


    Related reading: 7 Simple Ways to Protect Your Skin in the Sun

    2. Do: Skip products with drying ingredients.

    Soaps or facial products you use in warm weather with no issues may irritate your skin during colder seasons. This is because they contain ingredients that can cause dryness, but the effects aren’t noticeable until they’re worsened by the dry winter climate.

    You may need to take a break from:

    • Anti-acne medications containing benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid
    • Antibacterial and detergent-based soap
    • Anything containing fragrance, from soap to hand sanitizer

    Hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer, which contains a high level of skin-drying alcohol, cannot be avoided; we need to maintain good hand hygiene to stop the spread of germs. If your job or lifestyle requires frequent hand washing or sanitizing, routinely apply hand cream throughout the day as well.


    During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen a lot of people develop hand dermatitis—a condition with itchy, burning skin that can swell and blister—due to constant hand washing. Sometimes the fix is as simple as changing the soap they're using. Sensitive-skin soap is the best product for dry skin; it typically foams up less but still cleans the skin efficiently.


    3. Do: Pay closer attention to thick skin.

    Areas of thin skin, such as the face and backs of your hands, are usually exposed to the wind and sun the most. It’s easy to tell when they start drying out. But the thick skin on your palms and bottoms of your feet is also prone to dryness—and tends to receive less attention.


    When thick skin gets dry, fissures form. You’ll see the surface turn white and scaly; then deep, linear cracks will appear. It isn’t as pliable as thin skin. When you’re constantly on your feet or using your hands to work, cook, and everything in between, dry thick skin cracks instead of flexing with your movements. 


    To soften cracked skin, gently massage a heavy-duty moisturizer—such as Vaseline—into the affected area once or twice a day. You can also talk with your doctor about using a skin-safe adhesive to close the fissures and help them heal faster.


    Related reading:  Follow these 5 Tips for Healthy Skin

    4. Don’t believe the myth that drinking more water will fix dry skin.

    Contrary to popular belief, the amount of water or fluids you drink does not play a major role in skin hydration—unless you’re severely dehydrated. In the winter, especially, dry skin is caused by external elements; it should be treated from the outside as well. 


    The best way to keep skin hydrated and healthy is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment—not lotion—to damp skin after a shower or bath.
    Some people need additional moisturizers for their hands, legs, or other areas prone to dryness.

    While some lotions are made better than others, most are a combination of water and powder that evaporates quickly. Creams and ointments work better because they contain ingredients that can help rebuild your skin barrier. 

    Look for products with ceramide, a fatty acid that helps rebuild the fat and protein barrier that holds your skin cells together. The AAD also recommends moisturizing ingredients such as:

    • Dimethicone
    • Glycerin
    • Jojoba oil
    • Lanolin
    • Mineral oil
    • Petrolatum
    • Shea butter

    For severely dry skin, you can try a “wet wrap” technique:

    1. Rinse a pair of tight-fitting pajamas in warm water and wring them out so they’re damp, not wet.
    2. Apply cream or ointment to your skin.
    3. Put on the damp pajamas, followed by a pair of dry pajamas, and wear the ensemble for several hours.

    Dampness makes your skin more permeable and better able to absorb hydrating products. If the wet wrap or over-the-counter products aren’t working for you, talk with a dermatologist about prescription skin hydration options. 

    Drinking more water isn’t the answer to dry winter skin. The best solution is to apply fragrance-free cream or ointment directly to damp skin. Get more cold weather #SkinCareTips from a dermatologist in this blog: https://bit.ly/3KbVUA1.
    Click to Tweet

     

    5. Don’t confuse skin conditions with dryness.

    Skin conditions are often mistaken for dry skin because peeling or flaking are common symptoms. Redness of the skin or itching in addition to dryness and flaking indicates a skin condition that may need more than an over-the-counter moisturizer.


    Skin cells are anchored together by a lipid and protein layer (like a brick and mortar wall). With very dry skin, the seal on this wall or barrier is not fully intact and water evaporates out of the skin’s surface. The skin will become itchy and red in addition to scaly or flaky. If you experience these symptoms, visit with a dermatologist.

    6. Don’t wait for symptoms to take care of dry skin.

    Be proactive—the best way to maintain moisture is to apply hydrating creams and ointments directly to your skin on a regular basis. Start by applying them as part of your morning routine. Once you get used to that, add a nighttime application. And carry a container of it when you’re on the go or keep it in an easily accessible location at work.

     

    You can’t avoid dry air, but you can take precautions to reduce its harsh effects on your skin. If over-the-counter products don’t seem to help, our dermatologists can provide an individualized treatment plan. Hydrated skin is healthy skin!


    Does your skin get drier as the air gets colder?

    Our dermatologists can help.

    Call 202-877-DOCS (3627) or Request an Appointment

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  • March 27, 2018

    By Brian Lim Bello, MD

    Most people know that fruits and vegetables are good for their bodies, but recent research suggests that the foods and drinks we choose can significantly increase our risk for colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, the easy, tasty options many people in the U.S. enjoy are top culprits: processed meats, sugary drinks and high-sodium snacks.

    My team and I see patients every week whose colorectal cancer likely could have been avoided with education about better nutrition choices. I know it can be tough to give up or cut back on foods we love, but it’s important to work with your doctor to understand what foods to avoid and choose, as well as how to make healthier nutritional choices.

    LISTEN: Dr. Bello discusses nutrition and colorectal cancer risk in this Medical Intel podcast.

    Foods and drinks that can increase colorectal cancer risk

    Certain foods that increase inflammation in the body also can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, these happen to be foods that are popular with many patients, including:

    • Fatty foods
    • Foods that are high in sodium
    • Fried food
    • Processed meat, such as bacon, ham, hot dogs and sausage
    • Red meat, such as beef
    • Sweets

    What you drink can factor in as well. Excessive amounts of alcohol are linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, especially in men. One study also suggests that people who drink just one sugar-sweetened beverage a day have an 18 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes over a 10-year period. This is significant, because people with type 2 diabetes are at increased risk to develop colorectal cancer.

    Foods that can reduce colorectal cancer risk

    I recommend that my patients eat a high-fiber diet to lower their risk of colorectal cancer. Researchers continue to investigate the effects of fiber on cancer risk, but it’s possible that because fiber reduces the time waste takes to exit your digestive system, it helps protect you from cancer-causing agents in the waste.

    Most people should aim for 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber per day to lower their risk of developing colorectal cancer. Foods that are rich in fiber include:

    • Cereals
    • Legumes, such as peas or beans
    • Raw fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and flour, brown rice, oats and quinoa
     
    Eat 25-30 grams of #fiber every day to help lower your risk of #colorectalcancer. via @MedStarWHC

    Click to Tweet


    I see many patients who don’t get the amount of fiber they need as part of a healthy diet. This likely is part of the reason for increasing rates of colorectal cancer deaths among young adults, who are more likely to have grown up eating processed, unhealthy foods.

    How we help patients choose healthier foods

    Many patients are surprised when I tell them diet is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Oftentimes, they’re not even aware their diets are unhealthy. Our colorectal care team includes nutritionists who help patients find a balance between what’s healthy and what tastes good. Together, we find substitutes for the foods they enjoy, such as swapping skinless poultry and fish for processed or red meat.

    But what happens if a patient doesn’t prepare their own meals, and a spouse or caregiver cooks for them? In these cases, I’ve found it helps to involve the family in the nutrition conversation. We help them learn to plan menus together and find alternatives to unhealthy favorites.

    Nutrition is one piece of the puzzle to determine colorectal cancer risk, along with age and family history. While we can’t yet completely eliminate the possibility of developing colorectal cancer, we can help patients lower their risk by making healthier food and beverage choices.

     

    To request an appointment with a colon and rectal surgeon, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

  • March 22, 2018

    By Maria E. Litzendorf, MD

    Dark, twisted or bulging varicose or spider veins on the legs can look unsightly, cause pain and even signal a serious health condition. Unfortunately, they’re also very common. As many as 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men in the U.S. have a vein problem, and half of all Americans 50 and older have varicose veins.

    Spider veins look like tiny red or blue webs or tree branches close to the surface of the skin. Varicose veins look like bulging or twisted ropes and often are deeper under the surface of the skin. When the one-way valves that pump blood from the legs back to the heart become weak, blood pools in the legs. This causes the veins to swell, making them appear darker and more visible under the skin. Varicose and spider veins can be caused by:

    • Aging
    • Being overweight or obese
    • Being pregnant
    • Going through menopause
    • Having a family history of vein problems
    • Standing or sitting for long periods
    • Using birth control pills

    Varicose and spider veins will not go away on their own, and they tend to get worse over time. If left untreated, they can lead to skin discoloration, toughening of the skin or painful sores that refuse to heal. If you’re tired of dealing with unsightly or painful dark swollen veins in the legs, ask a vascular surgeon if one of these four minimally invasive treatment options can help you.

    To request a consultation with a vascular surgeon, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

     

    4 options for varicose and spider vein treatment

    Before treatment begins, we may recommend that you have a duplex ultrasound to rule out serious vein problems, such as a deep-vein thrombosis (a type of blood clot). This test uses two forms of ultrasound to let us see whether blood is flowing normally through the veins.

    Based on those results, your doctor may recommend one of these four minimally invasive treatments or a combination of therapies to reduce the appearance of your varicose veins and any painful symptoms.

    1. Compression therapy

    Compression therapy involves the use of special garments that put pressure on varicose veins to reduce swelling and prevent blood from collecting in the legs.

    • Compression hose apply a little pressure all over the leg
    • Over-the-counter compression hose provide support and compression, and they are available in pharmacies and medical supply stores
    • Prescription-strength hose apply the most pressure, and you’ll need to be fitted for them by a trained professional

    2. Sclerotherapy

    Sclerotherapy involves injecting chemicals into affected veins to seal them and prevent blood from flowing through them. Over time, and with multiple treatments, the varicose and spider veins turn to scar tissue and fade away as the body redirects blood flow to healthier veins. You may need to wear compression stockings or elastic bandages between treatments to help your legs heal and to reduce swelling.

    3. Radiofrequency ablation

    Radiofrequency ablation involves inserting a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into the non-working vein. At the end of the catheter is a heating element that heats up and seals off the vein from the inside.

    We can do this procedure with just a local anesthetic in the office, and you will go home the same day. The vein treated with radiofrequency ablation will become scar tissue and fade as healthy veins take over the leg’s normal blood flow.

    4. Lifestyle changes

    Adjusting your normal routine can keep varicose and spider veins from getting worse, ease your symptoms and lower your risk of developing new vein problems. I often recommend that patients:

    • Exercise regularly, and focus on exercises that improve your leg strength, such as walking, jogging or running
    • If you have to sit for long periods of time, prop your legs up and take short walks frequently to keep blood flowing in your legs
    • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight to reduce strain on your legs

    You don’t have to live with unsightly, painful varicose and spider veins. Talk to an experienced, qualified vascular surgeon to choose the best treatment option for your unique condition.

    To schedule a consultation with a vascular surgeon, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

  • March 20, 2018

    By Z. Jennifer Lee, MD

    Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of death among cancers that affect both men and women. However, it’s also one of the most preventable cancers thanks to advances in colonoscopy. Regular colonoscopy gives patients the chance to have potentially precancerous masses called polyps removed from the colon before they can turn into cancer.

    A national campaign, 80% Pledge (also known as the 80% by 2018), was established to increase the colorectal cancer screening rate to at least 80 percent of eligible adults by the Dec. 31, 2018. Colonoscopy is the gold-standard of colon cancer prevention, and this goal is achievable if patients understand the importance of colonoscopy and providers do a better job of educating patients about screening.

    My colleagues and I are passionate about preventing colon cancer. I jokingly refer to myself as a colonoscopy cheerleader: “Hooray! You got your colonoscopy!” However, not enough people who are eligible for colonoscopies get screened for a variety of reasons. In fact, one in three adults between 50 and 75 are not up-to-date with their screenings.

    There are many reasons people avoid colonoscopy, but the fact remains: Colonoscopy saves lives, and no excuse for not getting one is worth the risk of developing potentially devastating—yet often preventable—colorectal cancer.

    LISTEN: Dr. Lee discusses the importance of colonoscopy in the Medical Intel podcast.

    Why do so many people avoid screenings?

    One of the most common reasons patients avoid colonoscopy is that they don’t want to receive bad news. This is understandable, but the majority of patients get positive news after a colonoscopy. Even if we find polyps, they often can be removed before they develop into cancer. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colonoscopy prevented half of expected colorectal cancers from 2003 to 2007.

    Typically we perform colonoscopies on people who aren’t having symptoms of colon cancer, such as bloody stools or stools with an unusual consistency. Patients who are experiencing symptoms may be scared that something is wrong. As a doctor, I implore patients to recognize that it’s better to find out whether something is wrong and fix it than to wait too long and potentially risk their lives.

    Another concern patients express is that the test will be uncomfortable. Believe me, the worst part is the prep, and the prep really isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things. You can’t eat the day before, and you have to drink a laxative. You’ll also need to stay by a toilet. I tell my patients to think of it as a cleanse, which can make it more tolerable. When you arrive, you’ll have an IV inserted, then you’ll take a nap. When you wake up, you’re all done, and you won’t believe how easy it was. Many patients say, “It wasn’t as bad as I thought.”

    Related reading: Tips to make colonoscopy prep more bearable

    If you absolutely don’t want to have a colonoscopy, there are other noninvasive tests we can perform. These stool-based tests must be prescribed by a doctor but can be done at home:

    • Cologuard
    • Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT)
    • Fecal occult blood testing (FOBT)

    However, keep in mind that if one of these tests indicates something is wrong, you’ll need to have a colonoscopy anyway.

    At-home #coloncancer screening may be convenient, but if something’s wrong, you’ll still need a #colonoscopy. https://goo.gl/PdBrNM via @MedStarWHC

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    When should someone be screened?

    People at average risk for colon cancer should start screening when they turn 50 and every 10 years thereafter if nothing suspicious is detected. People at greater risk for colon cancer, including African-Americans and patients with a family history of the disease, should begin screening at 45 or younger. Some patients may need more frequent screenings than once a decade.

    It’s important that patients and doctors discuss individual risks to prevent cancer or catch it as early as possible, even if the patient has no symptoms. For example, I had a patient who came to MedStar Washington Hospital Center for a colonoscopy. He had no symptoms, and no one would have suspected he had colon cancer. However, we found a mass that was suspicious for cancer, so we took biopsies. The results were available the next day, and we found out that he did indeed have cancer. That same week, we were able to get him in for a consult with the colorectal surgeon who eventually performed a curative surgery.

    Related reading: Cherrell’s story: My colonoscopy confession 

    Patients are in good hands with our colonoscopy team. We have experts in a variety of specialties. We perform a high volume of colonoscopies—approximately 45 percent of our endoscopic procedures are colonoscopies. Complications with colonoscopy may sound scary, but are quite rare. These can include:

    • Abdominal pain
    • Bleeding
    • Colon perforation
    • Reaction to the sedative, such as breathing or heart problems

    In our practice, we make a point to work with our primary care colleagues to streamline referrals for patients in need of colorectal cancer screening. But if you’re eligible for a colonoscopy, don’t wait for your doctor to bring it up—ask about your risk and ask whether you need to be screened. The goal of screening at least 80 percent of patients who are eligible for colonoscopy is a lofty one, but achievable with honest communication and proper education about the vast potential of colonoscopy to prevent and detect colon cancer.

    To request an appointment with a gastroenterologist or for a colonoscopy, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

  • March 16, 2018

    By MedStar Health

    Smiling comes easily to Tammer Elmarsafi, DPM. It’s the result of his inherent good nature, and his passion for helping patients diagnosed with lower limb issues arising from diabetes, ulcers and wounds.

    What pleases Dr. Elmarsafi even more is knowing that regardless of the complexity of a patient’s condition, he and his MedStar Washington Hospital Center colleagues will craft a treatment plan that offers the highest rate of success.

    “No one specialty can give a patient enough care,” Dr. Elmarsafi explains. “It requires an integrated approach, one that involves specialists from many disciplines—vascular surgery, plastic surgery, infectious diseases, physical therapy, nutrition and many others. Patients may work most closely with me, but I’m just a small part of a larger team, focused on achieving a successful outcome.”

    The Path to Podiatric Surgery

    A native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, Dr. Elmarsafi originally seemed destined for a career in biomedical research. His father reminded him, though, that he could make larger impact as a physician. He also found through service as an emergency medical technician for the local rescue squad that while he was attracted to the science aspects of medicine, “the connection with people was more enjoyable,” Dr. Elmarsafi says.

    After attending the University of Cairo’s medical school and the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, Dr. Elmarsafi had his choice of podiatric surgery residencies. But his heart was set on the program at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, which he followed up with a fellowship in diabetic limb salvage at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

    "Coming here was a dream come true,” he says. “If you want to learn everything about how the body works, have good mentors and high-caliber residents to bounce ideas off of, this is the place. No matter the specialty, there’s a lot of collaboration.”

    Such teamwork is important, as many of his cases tend to be quite complex and challenging.

    "The lower extremities tend not to heal as routinely as other parts of the body, so a treatment plan for limb salvage often requires multiple surgeries,” Dr. Elmarsafi explains.

    Such conditions can also be especially stressful for patients, who are understandably anxious about the possibility of worst-case outcomes. That’s why close attention to the individual’s mental state is as important as monitoring his or her physical condition.

    "It’s my responsibility to be up-front about treatment, but also fully aware of the emotional toll,” Dr. Elmarsafi says. “If I see signs of depression, I’ll refer the patient immediately to specialists who can help.”

    Tracking depression among patients with severe lower limb conditions is one of many research projects Dr. Elmarsafi has underway or planned, which helps podiatric surgery residents enjoy the same career development opportunities he enjoyed.

    Outside the Hospital

    With a family that includes three young boys, two of whom were born at the Hospital Center, free time in Dr. Elmarsafi’s life is a precious commodity. But when it does come about, he can usually be found outside hiking, fishing or kayaking on the Potomac River.

    “Spending time in nature with family is how I relax,” Dr. Elmarsafi says. And you can bet just thinking about it is enough to make him smile.

  • March 15, 2018

    By Ana Barac, MD

    Every patient who’s being treated for cancer should talk to their oncologist about the risk of heart-related complications. We’ve learned a lot in recent years about which cancer treatments can affect the heart and who is most at risk.

    Some people are at more risk than others. People who have had heart conditions such as heart failure and cardiomyopathy in the past may have a weakened heart that’s more vulnerable to damage from some forms of cancer treatment. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is emerging as a major risk factor for heart-related complications of cancer treatment, especially for those already more susceptible to developing high blood pressure, such as African-Americans and older adults. However, whether you have these risk factors or not, we have to think about the type of treatment you need and whether it’s cardiotoxic, or damaging to the heart.

    To request an appointment with a cardiologist, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

    What cancer treatments affect the heart–and how?

    Only a few groups of cancer medications have a direct effect on the heart: anthracyclines, radiation therapy and targeted therapies for HER2-positive breast cancer.

    Anthracyclines

    Anthracyclines have been used successfully since the 1970s to treat breast cancer, lymphomas (cancers of the lymphatic system) and sarcomas (cancers of the bones, muscles and the body’s connective tissues). The most commonly used medication from this group is a chemotherapy drug called doxorubicin. In recent years, we’ve learned that the dosage of anthracyclines is related to their effects on the heart, and there have been changes in cancer treatment plans to limit these effects.

    Radiation therapy

    A history of radiation therapy also can affect the heart’s function. Radiation oncologists have done a tremendous amount to minimize the damage radiation can have on the heart, but I do have some patients who have been exposed to radiation in the past and are seeing me for heart valve disease or coronary artery disease. These known effects of radiation therapy can appear years after cancer treatment ends.

    Targeted therapies for HER2-positive breast cancer

    These medications treat breast cancer that has tested positive for higher-than-normal levels of a protein called HER2, or human epidermal growth factor receptor. The drugs trastuzumab and pertuzumab, which often are given alongside chemotherapy, are the main culprits in this group. However, the heart-related effects of these drugs aren’t related to their dosage, so we have to watch patients closely when they’re on HER2-targeted treatment.

    Related research: How we identify and treat heart risk during potentially cardiotoxic therapy

    Indirect effects of cancer treatment

    New combination therapies, as well as targeted therapies, can have unexpected side effects, and there are no set guidelines on when cardiologists need to check the hearts of patients who have received or are receiving them.

    We’re starting to see a small percentage of patients receiving cancer treatment who have a drop in the amount of blood pumped out of the heart with each heartbeat (ejection fraction). That can be a symptom of heart failure. Some patients on newer therapies have developed myocarditis, which is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can be fatal. Immune checkpoint inhibitors, which boost the immune system’s ability to fight cancer, are one example of cancer treatments that have been linked to cases of myocarditis. Patients who are receiving therapies targeting tumor pathways (such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) inhibitors) may develop high blood pressure as a consequence of treatment that may put them at risk for heart failure and stroke. Elevation of blood pressure can be successfully treated.

    How to reduce heart risks during cancer care

    First and foremost, it’s critical to let your oncologist know if you’ve had heart problems in the past. Your doctor also should know if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, because these conditions can increase your risk for a heart problem even before starting cancer treatment.

    When your oncologist recommends therapies, ask how they could potentially affect your heart. If the oncologist says the treatment could affect your heart, or if it’s not known whether it could, it’s a good idea to meet with a cardio-oncologist like me. My colleagues and I are cardiologists who have expertise in how cancer treatments interact with the heart.

    If possible, you should have an echocardiogram before cancer treatment begins. This gives the oncologist a baseline reading of your heart, so they can better detect any changes that may happen during treatment. For example, if your oncologist notices a drop in your ejection fraction, we can prescribe diuretics or other medication to help the heart pump more effectively. If increases in your blood pressure are seen during therapy, you should be prescribed medications and your blood pressures should be followed to make sure that control is adequate.

    Both oncologists and cardiologists need to keep up to speed on the latest treatments and research. I was part of a Feb. 2018 publication by the American Heart Association that highlighted the important intersection between breast cancer and heart disease. In December 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) organized a workshop on cardiotoxicity of cancer treatments and on the heart effects of immune checkpoint inhibitors and in February 2018 the American College of Cardiology hosted the Heart House Roundtable on Cardiovascular function and Cancer treatment that I had the privilege to chair. These workshops bring together doctors, patient representatives, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry and regulators, all of whom wanted to make sure everyone has the latest information to keep patients safe during cancer treatment. In addition to workshops, there is growing need for education of cardiologists and oncologists in this area and professional societies, such as the American College of Cardiology are very important. In February 2018, the ACC hosted its second live course here in Washington on cardiovascular care for the oncology patient that was attended by more than 300 hundred health care professionals.

    The ACC Cardio-oncology section has created two important resources for education of physicians and patients in this field that I recommend highly to my patients and colleagues:

    With what we’ve learned and continue to learn about the potential heart-related risks of cancer treatment, oncologists and cardiologists alike are more prepared than ever to address these problems before they get out of control. By understanding the risk, planning for it ahead of time and calling in a cardiologist if needed, we can make the difference between a minor issue that needs to be monitored and a major problem with consequences that last for years to come.

    Call 202-877-3627 or click below to schedule your heart screening.

    Request an Appointment

  • March 12, 2018

    By Cherrell Freeman-Davis

    My friend was in her mid-50s and, like me, she worked in health care. She was a busy mom and was very involved in church. My friend was diagnosed with colorectal cancer just five months before she died.

    When I heard the news, I was shaken. Worse, I was ashamed. I was 48 at the time, and I was past due for my own colonoscopy screening. I’m an African-American woman working in health care, and I knew better. Every day, I work with gastroenterologists, the doctors who specialize in the digestive system and perform colonoscopies. We advise African-Americans to start regular colonoscopies beginning at age 45 because of our higher risk for colon polyps that can develop into colon cancer. But much like my friend, I put my responsibilities before my own health.

    To request an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

    Request an Appointment

    Why Didn’t I Put Myself First?

    Cherrell spending time with her family

    Like many women, even though I know taking care of myself is important, I’ve had a drive my whole life to put others first, including my family and my patients. My work ethic reflects the same philosophy that underlies in everything we do here at MedStar Washington Hospital Center: Patients are always our first priority. As a practice administrator in a busy gastroenterology practice, I have demands and responsibilities to oversee and manage daily operations that are essential for patients’ care, and which can’t be disrupted. It was almost easy for me to get so caught up that I neglected myself in the process. I did schedule a colonoscopy a couple of times, but I ended up giving my appointment slots to patients who I felt needed them more.

    My friend’s death from colorectal cancer made me realize how wrong I’d been to neglect my health. I have two boys that I adore, a 16-year-old and an 12-year-old, as well as a wonderful husband and a career I love. I knew it was time to take care of myself first in order to take care of my family and patients.

    Preparing for My Colonoscopy

    My fellow staff members helped me. They quickly found an available appointment—for the day after the Super Bowl. That meant I had to stick to a clear liquid diet the day before the test. I joked, “You really set me up! I can’t eat wings or chips or anything!”

    I’ll be honest: I was reluctant to do the prep before my colonoscopy. I was concerned about being able to drink the required amount of the prep solution. But my colleagues and Dr. Z. Jennifer Lee, a doctor I work with and who screened me, gave helpful prep tips, such as to keep the fluid chilled and use a straw. The prep was easier than I expected, as was the procedure itself.

    Related reading: Tips to make colonoscopy prep more bearable

    My Test Results

    Dr. Lee found that I did have a colon polyp, which she removed and sent to pathology for testing. Thankfully, it came back benign, or noncancerous. But mine was the type of polyp that can become cancerous if not removed, so I will have my next screening in five years. Some people will have repeat colonoscopies sooner and some can wait as long as 10 years between screenings. My experience shows the point of colonoscopies: Dr. Lee prevented potential cancer from happening. Since I got my colonoscopy, I feel so much better! It’s like a burden has been lifted from me. I know that I’m fine, and I just have to stay on top of my own health care. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to get better about this. Every so often, I will evaluate where I am and make sure to make time for my own well-being.

    I was initially hesitant to talk about this in a public sphere. Did I really want to admit I let my own colonoscopy go when I knew better and, at the same time, was counseling patients to schedule theirs? Ultimately, I decided I had to talk about it. By telling my story, I hope I can show others how important it is to get a colonoscopy, to know their risk for colorectal cancer and to take action before it’s too late. We all have friends and family members who depend on us. It’s time to take care of them by taking better care of ourselves first.

    If you would like to schedule a colonoscopy, call 202-877-3627 or click below.

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