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Dr. Rony Salloum started working with the Mountain View Medical Group in November and has brought his extensive experience to the service of the people of Las Cruces.
He is a specialist in colorectal surgery and is glad to be here serving a population which, unfortunately, tends to be at high risk for colon cancer.
Salloum said he is drawn to the specialty because of its diverse experiences and the variety of treatments he can help people with.
“You get to experience all aspects of surgical care,” he said. “You do the one-time procedures. You do the continuity of care over a long time, for inflammatory bowel disease, for example.”
He also sees cancer patients, but said he wishes there were fewer of them.
Colon cancer is the fourth most common by incidence in the United States with 151,000 estimated cases in 2022.
No. 2 cancer killer
It is the second most common cause of (cancer) death, right after lung cancer and, Salloum said, there are things that can be done to change that.
“When I was doing my rotations, I realized that these (cancers) can be fixed so easily if someone would just do it,” he said. “You get to screen for cancer with colonoscopies and you get to change the balance from trying to play catch-up with cancer to catching it and treating it even before it becomes cancer.
“That dramatically changes the ballgame.”
Salloum said he practices a broad scope of colorectal surgery on conditions that include cancer and diverticulitis, and benign diseases, such as fecal incontinence, rectal prolapse, hemorrhoids, fissures and fistulas, among other things.
“The scope of my practice is really trying to address the colorectal need in this part of the country,” he said.
Medically, and specifically with colorectal matters, people tend to bypass screenings with a, “if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it attitude,” he said.
Waiting can be deadly
“People wait one more year, then one more year, and then one more year and then after all that time when you could have done something, you end up with cancer,” he said.
The age to begin colon cancer screening used to be 50, and now it’s 45 because, more and more, younger people are being affected, he said. These guidelines started a few years ago but it doesn’t seem like it’s really reached everybody because there are still many people who think the age is 50.
Cancer can develop when an inflamed state happens in the rectum or in the colon because an inflamed state causes a tissue injury and the body tries to heal it, Salloum said.
The more your body tries to heal itself, the more likely you are to have defects in that healing process. And that is “kind of” how cancer cells start, he said.
Risk factors like smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and a diet of fatty foods with low fiber, give the colorectum a predisposition to get more inflammatory damage and become more prone to cancers, he said. There are also inherited disorders that can make people more prone to cancer.
Diet can help
Maintaining a diet high in fiber helps a lot with cancer reduction and also helps lower the risk of diverticulitis which, Salloum said, he is seeing in younger and younger people. Diverticulitis is the major reason people get admitted to the hospital regarding colorectal issues.
Symptoms of diverticulitis can include abdominal pain, (on the left usually), fevers, nausea, vomiting and difficulty eating, he said. But cancer symptoms are not so obvious and often tend to go silent and unnoticed until they are more advanced. Symptoms include rectal bleeding, weight loss or just overall fatigue.
While New Mexico has improved overall in how frequently people are screened with colonoscopies, from 2012-2020, Salloum said the state must do better.
Goal is 80 percent
Currently in New Mexico, 65 percent of people are up to date on the procedure, but the goal is 80 percent.
Screening colonoscopies are generally covered 100 percent by health plans, he said.
“Colorectal conditions are nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of and should not prevent you from trying to seek care,” Salloum said. “It is an organ, just like any other organ in the body that can have problems that can be fixed. It is important to seek care early enough while problems are still manageable in a fairly simple way, before things get too out of hand and more complex.”