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Did you know that one in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime? It’s the fastest growing cancer in the world, and it spreads earlier and more quickly than other types of skin cancer. For young people ages 15 to 29, it’s the second most common type of cancer diagnosis. Most people don’t think about their risk of cancer at a younger age – but the average age for a melanoma diagnosis is just 50 years old! 

“It’s absolutely critical that people of all ages have their skin routinely checked by a dermatologist to watch out for unusual skin changes,” says Alvaro Valle, MD, surgical oncologist with University Surgical Associates. “This is so important because when skin cancer – including melanoma – is found earlier, it’s much easier to treat effectively.” 

Melanoma often begins with something that looks like a mole and can be removed quickly – if it’s caught early. Moles can sometimes be mistaken for beauty marks, so they fly under the radar and don’t get the attention they should. This underscores the importance of having a dermatologist take a closer look at anything abnormal on your skin. 

When It’s Advanced 

Melanoma is considered to be the deadliest type of skin cancer. More aggressive treatments are generally indicated as opposed to non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with melanoma, the stage of the cancer will determine what treatment is needed. 

Dr. Valle points out that pre-melanomas and early stage melanoma lesions can many times be effectively treated in a dermatologist’s office. For people who have a more advanced stage melanoma, a wide excision in combination with a lymph node biopsy may be necessary to remove all traces of cancer. When sample lymph nodes are removed and tested, the results help your doctors determine further treatment decisions. The procedure is called sentinel node biopsy. 

“If a patient has advanced or invasive melanoma, we use the standard approach recommended by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network clinical guidelines which require a larger amount of tissue to be removed around the perimeter of the lesion,” says Dr. Valle. “It’s in these instances we can be most helpful to patients – by performing procedures that require anesthetic support in a hospital-based outpatient facility.” 

One example is when just a few melanoma cells are found in the lymph nodes, the cancer is generally moved to a stage 3. This bump in stage drastically increases the chance of recurrence, but it also opens the door for many effective immune-system based treatments. Consider asking your doctor if a sentinel node biopsy is appropriate. USA’s surgical oncology team is well positioned to coordinate other treatment needs, including drug therapy or immunotherapy, as well as providing resources for living well with cancer and into survivorship. 

Critical Follow Up 

No matter if you have multiple skin lesions or have been diagnosed with pre-melanoma lesions or other pre-skin cancers, early detection and prevention is key. 

“The type of melanoma, the stage and the risk of recurrence are considered strongly in patient follow up appointments. If the cancer does recur, it’s much easier to treat in the earliest stages,” says Dr. Valle. “For all patients, a dermatologist’s evaluation is crucial on an ongoing basis. If you spot something unusual on your skin, don’t wait. Talk to you doctor right away. It could save your life.” 

Alvaro Valle, MD, FACS is a surgical oncologist with University Surgical Associates. He is board certified and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Valle specializes in oncologic and breast surgery. 

To schedule an appointment for a second opinion, more information on melanoma, or to be treated here, call (423) 267-0466 or visit 

If you or a loved one has an upcoming surgery, it’s natural to wonder about the recovery process. The length of your recovery period depends on several things including the type of surgery and your individual condition prior to the procedure. Although every surgery and situation is different, there are things you can do to aid in your body’s healing process. 

Follow these simple tips to keep your recovery on course. 

1. Go confidently into your procedure.

People who are educated about their upcoming surgery do better in recovery. By understanding what’s going to happen before, during and after your surgery helps you be more relaxed and confident. Learn all you can by asking questions until you understand the whole process – including how your team of healthcare professionals will work with you to promote fast healing. 

2. Address your addictions. 

There’s never a better time to quit smoking than today! Stopping smoking before surgery translates to immediate improvements in lung function and helps wounds heal faster. Even stopping one week before surgery can make a difference! The same goes for alcohol. People who drink heavily before surgery (defined as more than two drinks a day) are more than twice as likely to die in the month afterwards compared to people who don’t drink. 

Being honest with your physician about your smoking or alcohol use and ask them for help in making these very important lifestyle changes.  

3. Follow doctor’s orders. 

It might sound simple, but there’s a reason your doctor has prescribed a specific regimen for you after surgery. Doctors don’t give instructions without a reason – so following orders about activity, resting, driving, lifting and more can mean the difference between a normal recovery or one that could result in infections or excessive bleeding. 

4. Nourish with healthy foods. 

Even though you might not feel like eating after surgery, it’s important to stay hydrated and eat healthful foods to keep your recovery from stalling. Choosing the right foods after any surgical procedure can promote healing and minimize inflammation and swelling and bruising. Your digestive system may also be impacted by the antibiotics and pain medications that sometimes lead to constipation. What’s more, giving your body the proper fuel will give you energy to get back to your normal routine. 

What should you eat after surgery? 

Lean protein that’s found in chicken, eggs, fish, turkey, beans and legumes is essential to wound healing. It contains collagen, a protein found in the body that helps replace dead skin cells and gives our skin strength. Adding fiber and probiotics together is a powerhouse combination that keeps your digestive system moving. One example is yogurt and granola, which makes for a great breakfast or afternoon snack. Other foods high in fiber include beans, apples and pears, oatmeal and flaxseed meal. 

Making meals that include bright fruits and vegetables ensure you’re getting enough of the vital nutrients your body needs to speed healing. Sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, mango and dark leafy greens are excellent sources of beta carotene or pro-vitamin A, a nutrient vital to repair and maintain soft tissues. Bell peppers and citrus fruit provide ample vitamin C that also supports collagen production and is essential in proper wound healing. 

5. Start moving, conservatively. 

Get out of bed and do your rehab, as recommended. But don’t do too much, too soon. When your doctor says it’s ok for you to get up and move around, just do it! Even if you’re scared, get moving again. Lying in bed can lead to weak muscles, pressure ulcers and blood clots, and these ailments can slow down recovery. Normal activities of daily living can also help keep your bowels moving and ward off constipation. Every person and surgery are different. But if your doctor recommends rehab, it’s important to keep your appointments and follow the at-home instructions or exercises provided by the physical therapist to help you get stronger and recovery safely. 

It goes without saying that after surgery it’s critical that you listen to your body. If something’s not right, contact your surgeon right away. For more information about the procedures available at University Surgical Associates, click here. To schedule an appointment, call (423) 267-0466. 

Posted by University Surgical  | Category: Surgery Tips

Stroke Awareness Month

May 17th, 2018

Stroke Screenings Save Lives

Sgt. Prescott pictured left on his motorcycle and above with his daughter. 

There’s a common misconception that you can’t do anything to prevent a stroke. Strokes can seemingly come out of nowhere, yet effective screening tools are available that can predict a person’s risk and provide an opportunity to reduce that risk before it’s too late. Carotid artery ultrasound is a simple, painless, and affordable screening that clearly identifies a person’s stroke risk. It’s a test that Sgt. Terry Prescott of the East Ridge Police Department never knew he needed, but ultimately changed his life and health for the better.


Sgt. Prescott connected with the Vascular Group at University Surgical Associates (USA) for two reasons: his daughter, Janda White, the marketing director for USA, invited him to a free screening, and he’s a first responder. As a way to say thank you, The Vascular Group of USA offered a free 3-in-1 vascular screening to first responders; law enforcement,firefighters and EMS teams, on Valentine’s Weekend. The screening used ultrasound technology to check for carotid artery disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA), and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Sgt. Prescott came to the screening to support his daughter, never considering what would happen next.


“I had no idea that I had any problems, and I didn’t expect to hear that I was going to be a patient when I came in for a screening. Hearing they found an 80 percent blockage in my carotid was eye opening,”remembers Sgt. Prescott.


After the ultrasound technologist discovered the blockage, it was reviewed by Erica Clark, D.O., vascular surgeon USA. “The purpose of the ultrasound is to evaluate how blood flow passes through the arteries to identify plaque and the individuals who are at significant risk of stroke,” says Dr.Clark. “Sgt. Prescott had no other major health problems and was otherwise healthy. We were all surprised to find that he had significant carotid stenosis(or narrowing of the blood vessels), that I felt would require surgery to correct.”


Why Screening Matters

Stroke happens when one of the arteries that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked or bursts, which causes part of the brain not to get the blood it needs to live. Some of the first symptoms of a carotid artery disease are transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or mini strokes. Loss of speech or hand function, or numbness and tingling in one side of the body that all resolve within 24 hours are signs you should never ignore. These indicate you may have significant carotid disease. And screening is even more important because more than half of people who eventually have a clinically significant stroke don’t experience mini strokes or exhibit any outward warning signs.


“Age is always a risk factor for stroke because blood vessel walls tend to harden and develop more plaque as we grow older, but it’s not the only thing to consider,” says Dr. Clark. “Smokers, people with diabetes or end stage renal disease, those who have elevated cholesterol or poor diet control are all considered high risk for a significant narrowing of the arteries. For these individuals and especially those who have a family history, we can’t overstate the importance of screening.”


Surgical TreatmentClears Blockage

Before surgery to remove the blockage in his carotid artery, Sgt. Prescott met with Dr. Clark and her nurse, Charity Morris, RN, to more fully understand his condition and the surgical approach she would use to address it. His condition was serious enough that an open surgical procedure called carotid endarterectomy was required. The goal of the procedure was to open the artery, clean out the buildup of plaque and reestablish blood flow to the brain, effectively preventing a stroke.


Sgt. Prescott’s surgery went smoothly, as expected, and he spent one night in the hospital before recovering at home. He’s already back to work, feeling great and encouraging his friends and coworkers to make time for a simple test that likely saved his life.


“During my surgical consultation, Dr. Clark and her nurse explained everything that would happen during the procedure and took time to answer all my questions. I was just relieved to have the surgery rather than having the possibility of a stroke,” says Sgt. Prescott. “I’m very happy that I made time for the screening – especially since they found a blockage. I’ve told several of the guys I work with that they missed a great opportunity, but it’s well worth scheduling an appointment and getting checked out.”


The Vascular Group of University Surgical Associates offers a low-cost,3-in-1 vascular screening that includes the carotid artery, abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) screening, and peripheral artery disease (PAD) screening of the legs for just $90 or each separate screening for $35. To schedule a screening,call 423-756-1342. Learn more about USA Vascular Diagnostic Services here.

Watch part one of the interview with Sgt. Prescott and members of his USA healthcare team!

Posted by University Surgical | Topic: Health Tips