Friday, April 30, 2010

The Up Side of Jello

At age 50 your life changes. It’s more than menopause. You suddenly begin to take some things more seriously. Certainly you start to pay more attention to your health.

Among the recommended screening tests, the American Cancer Society and doctors prescribe colonoscopies. No wonder. Colon cancer is among the most common types of cancer; but, when detected early, colon cancer has high cure rates. It’s on my mind since my colonoscopy is scheduled this week.

Many people ignore this diagnostic test. They are more concerned about the “prep” rather than the procedure itself. Don’t let this dissuade you. There’s nothing wrong with a little jello and some clear liquids for 24 hours. The prep may be inconvenient, but the outcome can be lifesaving.

Johns Hopkins has a long history of ground breaking discoveries targeting colon cancer. Kimmel Cancer Center researchers were the first to isolate a series of mistakes in human DNA, called genetic mutations, that lead to the development and progression of colon and rectum cancer. These findings have already been used to develop screening blood tests for people with a family history of certain types of hereditary colon and rectum cancers. Subsequent work has led to the development of stool tests for non-hereditary colon cancer. Hopkins scientists also were the first to decode the colon cancer genome. Several new anticancer agents are being studied for their ability to interfere with the genetic alterations and stop the initiation of cancer. As genetic causes continue to be uncovered, Hopkins researchers expect to improve broad-based screening tests to detect colon and rectum cancer in its earliest and most treatable stages. More information is available at

So, my advice is simple. Schedule your colonoscopy and get some jello.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I always liked math—algebra withstanding. But with each year I come to better appreciate the importance of numbers. Although April 15 has just passed, remember that numbers have a pervasive impact on our health as well as our taxes. Whether we want to admit it or not, our increasing age impacts our health and our daily lives. More important, however, is our “medical age.”

Most of us know our shoe size or dress size, but do you know your HLD and LDL cholesterol, your glucose level or blood pressure? How many grams of fiber are you eating a day? What is your thyroid level? Yesterday I learned from a Johns Hopkins ophthalmologist that, on average, with each advancing decade the vitreous gel that fills your eye pulls away from your retina by 10 percent. I wondered what other changes are occurring in my body that can be captured by data.

We may not be doctors, but we need to become familiar with these numbers and know how they can impact our health.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Unfortunately my daughter recently had ankle surgery related to a fall down a circular staircase at school. The surgeon performed the ankle repair. The hospital provided detailed discharge instructions. Now as the mother, it is my responsibility to help my daughter recover in the aftermath of surgery. I can fluff the pillows, apply the ice packs, and fill the prescriptions. It’s managing her pain that leaves me uneasy.

Research shows that women suffer from pain conditions disproportionally compared to men. Johns Hopkins assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine and pain specialist Dr. Paul Christo tells me that women represent 72% of chronic pain sufferers. Migraine headaches and fibromyalgia are more common in women; women report more serious, more frequent, and longer lasting pain, and too many women are given antidepressants and tranquilizers when they report pain. Pain is often undertreated which results in needless suffering for millions of people.

Chronic pain affects a staggering 25% or more of the population and continues to cause distressing symptoms for many years. Very few patients with persistent pain have access to a pain specialist, and those who gain access report that treatments are underutilized and often fraught with barriers.

My daughter was fortunate. The pain was quickly controlled. For others, however, it’s good to know that there are pain specialists at Hopkins.