Our Passion, Your Health

Our Passion | Your Health features stories on the latest happenings at Penn State Health St. Joseph. Check out our blogs, recipes, patient stories, program highlights, and new services that represent our passion...your health.

Cancer Center Expansion Offers New Cutting-Edge Treatment Options for Berks Community

The Nittany Lion joined in the festivities as a crowd of 75 celebrated the groundbreaking of a new $5.5 million addition to the Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center in April.

By year’s end, patients in the Berks region will benefit from faster, more targeted radiation treatments that are also more comfortable, more precise and come with fewer side effects.

“Our overall mission is to bring hope and healing closer to home, and this allows us to make that happen,” said Dr. Navesh Sharma, associate professor of radiology and chief of radiation oncology for the Cancer Center.

Scheduled to open by year’s end, the 2,400-square-foot addition will accommodate both a growing patient base, as well as a new, state-of-the-art TrueBeam® linear accelerator.

“With this TrueBeam® technology, we have some extremely sophisticated tumor tracking and imaging capabilities,” says Karen Wagner, St. Joseph’s director of oncology services. “The real value of this technology is that it will enable St. Joseph to offer patients options that were previously unavailable here.”

For patients, the expanded Cancer Center will offer a few key benefits:

  • Health care providers can tailor individualized treatment plans much more precisely, drastically reducing treatment time
  • More patients will qualify for nonsurgical alternatives that are less invasive, faster to perform and offer faster recoveries
  • Local patients receive state-of-the-art treatment closer to home

The hallmark of the TrueBeam® linear accelerator is a powerful combination of 2D, 3D and 4D imaging that is updated every 10 milliseconds, monitors a patient’s breathing and body movement and permits faster, more potent radiation doses directly to a tumor site without damage to surrounding tissue or nearby organs.

Dr. Marc Rovito, medical director for the St. Joseph Cancer Center, expressed his gratitude to Penn State Health for its continued commitment to providing high-quality care locally.

“Currently, these patients have to go elsewhere for the TrueBeam® treatment option, but they will not in the future,” Rovito said. “Through Penn State Health providers, cancer patients will have access to the incredible resources of a renowned university teaching and research hospital while receiving high-quality care close to home.”

St. Joseph Cancer Center provides state-of-the-art cancer treatment, including genetic education, counseling and testing for people at high cancer risk, minimally invasive internal radiation therapy for liver tumors and cutting-edge clinical trials research for new cancer treatments.

Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center Cancer Center features a multidisciplinary team of specialists who are dedicated to accurate cancer diagnosis and staging, innovative and appropriate treatment, collaborative relationships with each patient's physicians, and attention to the care of patients and their families. If you or loved one would like to learn more, contact us at 6140-208-8810 or email at info@thefutureofhealthcare.org

Navigating Her Own Cancer Diagnosis

Maria Jimenez was born and raised in Puerto Rico and arrived in Reading in 1984.

She worked at many jobs as she raised 2 children. She had a “good life” but wanted to improve herself.

So, at age 53, Maria began college with the dream of working in healthcare.

In 2015, she graduated from Alvernia University with a BS in Healthcare Science. During her senior year, Maria “shadowed” St. Joseph’s Oncology Social Worker and Breast Care Patient Navigator and, after that experience, decided that becoming a Navigator would be a perfect career for her!

And her timing was perfect, too!

The year she graduated, St. Joe’s was the recipient of a Grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The grant was to hire a full-time Bilingual Navigator, known in the Latino community as a Promotora. After being hired, Maria attended the Harold P. Freeman Patient Navigation Institute in New York City for the specialized training needed for her new role.

In the ensuing 18 months, she found her life’s calling. She was devoted to assisting women, especially Reading’s large Latino community, to learn about the importance of breast health and mammograms.

She was immersed in her new job and life was good to her.

Then, in April 2017, she found a lump in one of her own breasts.

A mammogram and ultrasound was followed by a biopsy; the news was not good: She was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer.

Maria needed chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy; she lost her hair and took a leave from the job she loved. She was quite sick from the side effects of treatment, but yearned to return to the work she felt so passionate about.

Finally, just this October 2, Maria was back, with the realization that, more than ever, she was uniquely qualified to be a Promotora. While she still needs infusions and radiation therapy, she believes “the worst is over.” And, as if her professional mission needed clarity, she recognizes that her personal experience will be invaluable as she helps patients to deal with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

A Proven Approach to Stop Smoking

Thinking about quitting but don’t know where to start?

Our Smoking Cessation Group has had great outcomes because we support you through the difficult process. Learn more about this multi-week group beginning September 19th.

Know Your Risk: Cancer Risk Evaluation Program

If you’re concerned about your risks for developing breast, ovarian cancer, colorectal or other hereditary cancers, the experts in our Cancer Risk Evaluation Program can help. Our doctors and nurses will provide information, evaluation, genetic counseling, and genetic testing, if appropriate, to assist in developing a realistic opinion of your risk status. As an affiliate of the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute, our Cancer Risk Evaluation Program Coordinator, Donna Lamp, RN, BSN, CCM and Medical Director, Dr. Marc A. Rovito, work collaboratively with Penn State Hershey Medical Geneticist, Maria Baker, Ph.D. and your physicians to review your personal and family history, create a cancer- incidence pedigree (family tree), and offer recommendations for follow-up.

Our experienced oncology professionals will:

  • Determine your risk for developing a hereditary cancer;
  • Assist in developing a realistic opinion of a woman’s breast cancer risk status;
  • Recommend a plan for ongoing screening and risk reduction approaches;
  • Help women understand current breast health management issues and research studies related to breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment;
  • Explain the genetics of breast cancer and, when indicated, provide counseling and access to genetic testing;
  • Provide access to appropriate clinical research studies related to breast health or genetic testing consideration for women found to be at high risk;
  • Recommend a plan for ongoing screening and risk reduction approaches for individuals with Lynch Syndrome and other known cancer-related genetic syndromes;
  • Collaborate with medical oncology specialists, surgeons, and pathologists in order to identify individuals at risk for Lynch Syndrome, which include cancers such as colorectal, uterine and or ovarian, and based on personal and family history, provide screening and risk reduction strategies for these patients and their families.

Donna Lamp, RN, BSN, CCM, Coordinator of Cancer Risk Evaluation Program If you’re ready to assess your risk for developing breast, ovarian, and other hereditary cancers, or for more information on the process, contact Donna and let her be your personal guide. 610-378-2457   |   DLamp@PennStateHealth.psu.edu

Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month with Early Detection

Breast cancer is today’s second leading cause of cancer death in American women. While research continues to seek ways to prevent, detect, and treat this disease, it is essential for you to stay informed – so that you can make smart decisions about your health.


Free mammograms are offered to uninsured or underinsured women through a Susan G. Komen grant. Call 610-378-2959 to schedule your appointment.

If you are covered by insurance and would like to have a mammogram, contact your family physician for a prescription. You may then call 610-378-2100 to schedule your appointment.

Celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month with Risk Assessments

If you’re concerned about your risks for developing breast, ovarian cancer, colorectal or other hereditary cancers, the experts in our Cancer Risk Evaluation Program (CREP) can help. Our doctors and nurses will provide information, evaluation, genetic counseling, and genetic testing, if appropriate, to assist in developing a realistic opinion of your risk status. Our Cancer Risk Evaluation Program Coordinator, Donna Lamp, RN, BSN, CCM and Medical Director, Dr. Marc A. Rovito, work collaboratively with Penn State Hershey Medical Geneticist, Maria Baker, Ph.D. and your physicians to review your personal and family history, create a cancer- incidence pedigree (family tree), and offer recommendations for follow-up.

Donna Lamp, RN, BSN, CCM, Coordinator of Cancer Risk Evaluation Program If you’re ready to assess your risk for developing breast, ovarian, and other hereditary cancers, or for more information on the process, contact Donna and let her be your personal guide. 610-378-2457   |   DLamp@PennStateHealth.psu.edu

Lab makes donation to Cancer Center

“Each year our laboratory selects a charitable cause to support for Lab Week,” reported Lori Grauer, Laboratory Client Services/Marketing Manager. The recipient of the 2016 Outreach Project, sponsored by the Laboratory at Penn State Health St. Joseph, is the Cancer Center. The laboratory staff generously donated items for gift baskets and raised $600 through a silent auction of gift baskets and the sale of potted plants that were donated by a lab employee. The Lab Week Committee purchased twenty-four $25 gas gift cards (8 Wawa/8 Sheetz/8 Top Star) for patients who are undergoing cancer treatment.

Pictured L-R:  Karen Wagner, Director of Oncology Services, Diane Ross, M.T. - Lab Week Chair, Marc Rovito, MD, PSHSJ Cancer Center Medical Director.
Pictured L-R: Karen Wagner, Director of Oncology Services, Diane Ross, M.T. – Lab Week Chair, Marc Rovito, MD, PSHSJ Cancer Center Medical Director.

“We are thrilled and very grateful to our Laboratory colleagues for thinking of our patients in this way. The Lab staff has always been so generous in raising money to support those in need. We have patients and families who struggle emotionally, as well as financially, while undergoing cancer treatment. These patients will surely appreciate the gift of a gas card to help them with transportation expenses. And, the fact that hospital staff working in the Lab have provided the gas card makes the gift even more meaningful,” commented Karen Wagner, Director, Oncology Services. Thank you, PSHSJ Laboratory Services!

Low Dose CT Lung Cancer Screening has Potential to Save Lives

Lung cancer causes more deaths every year in the United States than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Not counting skin cancer, it is the second most common cancer in both men and women, with symptoms that usually don’t present until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
Penn State Health St. Joseph offers a screening that was proven in a clinical trial to reduce the chance of dying from lung cancer. This low dose CT lung cancer screening (LDCT) is more effective than a chest x-ray in diagnosing potential problems, and uses lower amounts of radiation than a standard chest CT.

“Because it’s a lower dose of radiation than with a regular CT scan of the chest we can use this as a screening tool,” explained Jason Dunlap, manager of imaging services. “It’s important to keep the radiation dose as low as possible.”

Screening for lung cancer in people at high risk for the disease can be an effective means of detecting the disease early, which can lower the risk of death.
“A lot of people only start experiencing symptoms of lung cancer when it reaches stage 3 or 4,” said Patrice Prutzman, a CT technologist and lung screening coordinator at St. Joseph. “These screenings can catch something at a much earlier stage.”

While the screenings have been proven to be effective, they are not for everyone.

LDCTs are recommended for patients between the ages of 55 and 77 who have a 30 pack-year history of smoking. That means a person would have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes each day for 30 years.

Candidates for screening must be smokers or former smokers who have quit within the past 15 years, and must be in reasonably good physical condition, as screenings are done to detect cancer in patients who have not experienced symptoms. If symptoms are present, tests are done for diagnostic purposes and are not a screening tool.

The low-dose CT scan does not require the use of IV contrast dye, meaning it’s more comfortable for patients.

“It’s pretty easy as far as tests go,” Dunlap said. “There’s really no preparation and there’s no pain involved.”

Anyone who wishes to have the screening and meets the general criteria should talk to his or her doctor. A doctor must decide whether the screening would be beneficial and fill out a form for a patient in a specified manner, using a special set of codes. Once the form is completed, either the patient or the doctor’s office can schedule the screening. Nearly all insurances cover the cost of the screening.

Everyone who comes to Penn State St. Joseph for a screening receives smoking cessation materials and counseling. If something suspicious is found during the screening, further tests may be required to determine whether cancer is present.

If there is cancer, the patient will be referred to St. Joseph’s Multidisciplinary Lung Clinic, which includes radiologists, pathologists, pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists. A Lung Nurse Navigator is assigned to guide each patient and patient’s family members through the entire process.
About 170 people were screened since St. Joseph began offering the service in February 2015, with some having already had two annual screenings. Once a doctor recommends the screening, it is recommended that it be repeated annually.

While the screening cannot prevent cancer from occurring, it can increase the chances of detecting it early, when it is treatable. Ideally, patients who receive the screening will stop smoking, but that does not always occur.

“It can be a huge challenge for someone who is addicted to nicotine to quit smoking,” Dunlap said. “Not everyone can do that, but if they can’t we can at least provide tools that can lessen the chances of them dying from lung cancer.”

Patrice Prutzman, CT Technologist, is the Lung Screening Navigator at Penn State Health St. Joseph. She will serve as your point of contact to guide you through the screening exam process. Click here for more information or call 610-378-2930.

Y-90 Treatment Provides Option for Cancer Patients

Thomas Souders of Fleetwood treasures every moment he gets with his beloved, 18-month-old granddaughter, Regan Lynn. Without the team of health care providers at Penn State Health St. Joseph that has been treating him for cancer since 2013, Souders fears he would have never had the opportunity to know her.

“I don’t think anybody expected me to be around for this long, but thank God I am,” Souders said. “Being with my granddaughter is just awesome. It’s a really good thing.”

Souders, who after experiencing severe abdominal pain was diagnosed with a type of pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver, will hopefully have much more time with Regan.
He recently became the first patient at St. Joseph to receive a promising treatment for patients suffering from liver cancer.

The treatment, called Selective Internal Radiation Therapy, or SIRT, targets tumors in the liver with precise, high doses of radiation while sparing as much normal tissue as possible.

Radiation is delivered with Yttriun-90 (Y-90) microspheres that are delivered through tiny catheters threaded through a patient’s arteries.

“It’s a very exciting treatment because it’s proven safe and it increases the amount of time that patients are without liver disease,” said Dr. Navesh K. Sharma, a Board Certified radiation oncologist who recently joined Penn State Health St. Joseph.

Sharma is nationally and internationally recognized as an expert in liver-directed radiation therapy, and was the principal U.S. investigator of a recent trial to test the effects of SIRT. He came to Penn State St. Joseph in September from the University of Maryland, a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that was the first in the country to offer the treatment. Sharma said it can provide hope for patients with advanced liver disease because it specifically targets tumors while sparing the rest of the liver from damage from radiation.

“In the majority of cases it will shrink, and in some cases completely eliminate the tumor,” Sharma said. He works with medical oncologists, interventional radiologists and others to treat patients who are candidates for this innovative treatment. Souders was referred to Sharma by Dr. Marc A. Rovito, a Board Certified medical oncologist at St. Joseph who has been treating Souders since his diagnosis.

The patient was having trouble tolerating an oral cancer drug he had been taking for several years, and Rovito was looking for another option. “The medicine was effective for him, but long durations of these drugs can have toxicity,” Rovito explained. “This treatment allows us to get him off that drug, which will improve his quality of life.”

Once it was determined that Souders was a candidate for the Y-90 treatment, Sharma worked with Dr. Kartik Shah, an interventional radiologist, to get imaging that let them examine the blood flow to the tumor and determine how much radiation to administer.

“No two patients are alike,” Shah explained. “We have to look closely at this imaging ahead of time so we know what we’re looking at.” On the day of the procedure, a catheter was inserted in the patient’s groin, through which the radiation was delivered to the tumor. Shah and Sharma work together to make sure the catheter is precisely placed, and the spheres delivered directly to the tumor. “The thing is, you’ve got two people doing their thing in concert,” Rovito observed. “It truly is a team effort.”

The treatment, which has been shown to reduce the risk of continued growth of a tumor in the liver by more than 30 percent, often is used to treat patients with colorectal cancer that has spread to the liver. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and, if not found early, tends to spread to the liver.

The Y-90 procedure is done on an out-patient basis, and can be administered in conjunction with chemotherapy. Unlike some other cancer treatments, it does not have to be repeated.

Souder has undergone treatment for the right lobe of his liver and is scheduled for an additional treatment that will address the left lobe. The results of the treatment should be long lasting, and side effects, which include fatigue, flu-like symptoms and abdominal pain, usually last for only one to two weeks.

“I was pretty tired and needed to rest a lot for a week or two, but I’m feeling better now,” Souders reported. He praised his healthcare providers and expressed gratitude for an option to his former treatment.

“I knew the pill wasn’t going to work for me forever,” Souders said. “To have Dr. Rovito explain the Y-90 treatment to me, and then work with Dr. Sharma and Dr. Shah to get it set up was amazing. All the doctors and nurses at St. Joe’s are so caring. They’re just great.” While the procedure is not for every patient who has liver cancer, it is an important and exciting treatment with definite benefits for some.

“This is not a treatment for everyone, but there are many people who could benefit from it who don’t even know about it,” Sharma said. “We want to get the word out to patients, family members and other physicians that this treatment is available now at Penn State St. Joseph.” Meanwhile, Souders will take one day at a time, delighting in watching Regan grow up.

“She gives me a reason to want to go on,” he said. “I intend to be around when she brings home her first boyfriend so that I can set him straight.”

Navesh K. Sharma, DO, PhD is a board-certified radiation oncologist at Penn State Health St. Joseph Cancer Center. He is internationally recognized as an expert in liver-directed radiation therapy, Y-90 SIRT. Click here for more information or call 610-898-SIRT (7478).

Colorectal Conditions and Surgery

Some of the top-ranked colorectal surgeons in the country are now practicing at Penn State St. Joseph, bringing their advanced expertise in diagnostics, drug therapies and the latest surgical treatment techniques to Reading.

Surgeons from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center complement the services of Penn State Health St. Joseph general surgeons Michael Abboud, M.D., and Levente Szalai, M.D. They see patients at St. Joseph’s Bern Township campus every Thursday, and soon will expand their services to include surgery.

The Hershey doctors are recognized for their skill in treating cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulitis, and other colorectal disorders, and will offer specialized cancer care and management at St. Joseph.

Colorectal is the third most common cancer among men and women, and risk for it rises after age 50.

Berks County patients who are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and require surgery may be treated at St. Joseph or Hershey Medical Center, depending on the patient’s condition and other factors.

Even if surgery is performed at Hershey, however, follow-up care, including chemotherapy, can occur at St. Joseph’s.

Dr. Walter A. Koltun, chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Penn State Hershey, said the goal is to provide the best care possible without burdening patients with unnecessary travel.

Hershey surgeons will work closely with staff at Penn State St. Joseph to coordinate and facilitate care.
“We recognize the value and expertise of referring physicians, and we honor the importance of local care to patients’ recovery and ongoing health,” Koltun said.

Dr. Louis LaLuna, a gastroenterologist with Digestive Disease Associates in Wyomissing, said patients at St. Joseph will benefit from the presence of the Penn State Hershey Colon and Rectal team. “This is an exciting time for physicians like myself, who sometimes need to refer patients for surgery,” LaLuna said.

While having top-rated surgeons available is a great benefit for patients, LaLuna’s goal remains keeping patients out of surgery.
The best way to accomplish that, he said, is with regular colorectal cancer screenings, also known as colonoscopy.

“This (Berks) county is way under where it should be as far as colonoscopy goes, and that’s a bad thing,” LaLuna said. “Colonoscopy isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get cancer, but your risk goes way, way down if you get one.” If you’re 50 or older and have not had a colonoscopy, talk to your doctor about scheduling one, he advised.

Early colon cancer often does not have symptoms, meaning that regular screenings are necessary. “Once you have symptoms, colonoscopy is no longer screening, it’s diagnostic,” LaLuna said. “But, when done regularly, it can prevent cancer from occurring. Why wouldn’t you do that?”

In addition to treating colorectal cancer, the Hershey surgeons are highly regarded for their care of patients suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a serious condition that involves chronic inflammation of all or part of the digestive tract.

IBD primarily includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, conditions that can be particularly devastating as they often occur in younger patients and can severely disrupt lives.

IBD affects between one-half to one percent of the general population, Koltun said, but is more prevalent in Central Pennsylvania. That may be because people in that area tend to stay put, meaning that the disease, which has a significant genetic component, becomes more concentrated.

“This is a complex disease with multiple genetic factors and multiple environmental triggers,” Koltun explained.

Physicians and researchers at Penn State Hershey run an IBD-dedicated BioBank that includes an IBD patient registry, a DNA bank and an IBD tissue library. The BioBank has been established long enough that it now includes information and samples from multiple generations of the same families, providing valuable insights into genetic components of the disease.

“This is pretty much the most significant BioBank of its type in the country,” Koltun said. While the exact causes of IBD are not fully understood, the disease is becoming more prevalent, both in our region and worldwide, Koltun said.

Patients at Hershey Medical Center, and now at St. Joseph, will benefit from the skilled expertise of Koltun’s team, which specializes in IBD surgery.

“We’ve become super specialists at this surgery through our research interests in IBD,” Koltun said. “We operate on IBD five to 10 times a week and are probably the most experienced IBD surgeons in this region.”

Hershey’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center includes radiologists, gastroenterologists, rheumatologists and surgeons, as well as stoma therapists, nutritionists and other support professionals who provide coordinated treatment for patients.

Walter A. Koltun, M.D is Chief, Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery and Director, Penn State Hershey IBD Center. He also leads a team at the colorectal surgery clinic located on Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Bern Township campus. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 610-378-7900.