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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.


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