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The pandemic has caused many shortages, among them blood. That’s because many blood drives have been canceled and traditional donors, such as college students, sidelined for the same reason. Steven Frank, a blood transfusion expert at Johns Hopkins, says there are several strategies to cope if you’re scheduled for surgery.

Frank:  If we simply give you some iron tablets before your surgery, which costs about $4.00, we can avoid $400 worth of transfusions. Treating preoperative anemia with iron is a good example of what we do. We can also use what’s called a cell saver device during surgery. It’s a machine that collects the blood you lose, and then we give you back your own blood during surgery. I haven’t met a patient yet that wouldn’t rather have their own blood back during surgery, compared to someone else’s blood.  :30

Frank notes that donating your own blood prior to surgery really isn’t an option as blood can only be stored for a few weeks and it takes at least that much time to replace what you’ve lost to donation. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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As Covid has ground on, many people avoided routine medical care, including cancer screenings. Needa Zaidi, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins, says that’s understandable, but if you notice anything unusual going on, it may be time to seek care.

Zaidi: The first thing as doctors that we worry about is unintentional weight loss. That means weight loss when you’ve been doing your normal routine, you’ve been living your life normally, eating normally, and you’re still losing weight. How much weight? About ten pounds is when we start to get concerned, and this is sudden unexpected weight loss, this is not weight loss in the setting of a juicing diet or going to Weight Watchers, this is really just unexpected weight loss. That is a reason to go get checked out.  :31

Zaidi notes other things to pay attention to are changes in bowel or bladder habits, sores that don’t heal, and any bleeding that is unexplained. She also urges a return to routine cancer screenings. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey. 

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Heart disease remains the number one cause of death worldwide, but cancer is coming up quickly. Needa Zaidi, an oncologist at Johns Hopkins, says the data point to much better outcomes even though more people are developing cancer.

Zaidi: The chances of surviving breast cancer were about 75% in 1975 and today, they’re about 90%. So all comers with breast cancer, the odds are very good and the treatments have gotten better. This improvement is largely due to an uptake in the screenings so now more people are getting their mammograms routinely, more people are getting their colonoscopies and Pap smears routinely. The other component that’s leading to this increase is that there’s been more focus on primary prevention and lifestyle modifications.  :33

Zaidi says things like weight loss and more healthful diets are the kinds of factors people have in their control that may help reduce lifetime cancer risk. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.

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Almost everyone has taken an antibiotic for an infection during their lifetime. Now two new studies examine the role of antibiotics in disrupting gut microbes, and an increased risk for colon cancer. William Nelson, director of the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, examines the data.

Nelson: One question is what do the antibiotics do to the risk of colon cancer? Which there’s a lot of suspicion that inflammation in the colon perhaps driven by some of these bugs may be a contributor to colorectal cancer. They found two studies that suggest that antibiotics might increase the risk of colon cancer, about 15 to 20% increased risk, so pretty mild effect. Although it was ten years after you took the antibiotics so in other words you somehow reset the ecology of the colon in that way.  :30

Nelson notes that the gut microbiome is extremely complex and constantly changing for everyone, making assessing the role of antibiotics in this milieu very challenging. At Johns Hopkins, I’m Elizabeth Tracey.