A new direct-visualization technology is aiding doctors in the diagnosis of tumors in the pancreas and bile ducts, without the need for invasive surgery. Called SpyGlass™, the scope-type technology allows doctors to enter and look directly into the pancreas and bile duct system to determine the cause of blockages or disease, and obtain tissue samples for biopsy.
“This new device is going to increase early diagnosis of pancreatic diseases and cancer,” said Adam B. Elfant, M.D., Director of Therapeutic Endoscopy at the Cooper Digestive Health Institute. “The ability to finally biopsy difficult-to-reach areas within the ductal system and pancreas will allow patients to be treated sooner if cancer is found, leading to better outcomes for patients. This is a remarkable step in diagnosis for this devastating cancer,” Dr. Elfant said.
Cooper is the only center in South Jersey that offers the SpyGlass™ system.
SpyGlass™ uses a tiny fiber-optic camera – not much bigger than a pencil point – inserted through a catheter (or tube) via the mouth into the upper digestive tract. Threaded through the stomach and into the bile ducts, the camera can be “steered” in four directions, allowing physicians to pinpoint the spot they want to examine. With SpyGlass™, physicians are able to see clear, three-dimensional, color images in real time. SpyGlass™ also uses a light probe and miniature forceps for physicians to take tissue samples for biopsy. Most procedures are done on an out-patient basis.
Until now, direct visualization of the pancreatico-biliary system was not widely performed due to the limitations of traditional visualization systems and diagnostic testing. For many patients, exploratory surgery has been the only way to secure a diagnosis.
Being able to diagnose pancreatic disease without the need for an invasive surgical procedure represents significant progress. With a more timely diagnosis, patients can begin treatment much earlier, resulting in the potential to dramatically improve outcomes.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2008 nearly 38,000 Americans were diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas–the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Pancreatic cancer is a “silent” disease, with patients often not exhibiting symptoms until late in the disease process. As a result, the majority of patients with late-stage disease have a poor prognosis for survival.
Symptoms like unexplained weight loss, persistent loss of appetite, or light-colored stools should always prompt concern. Consistent or worsening discomfort (abdominal pain and/or bloating), nausea, vomiting or diarrhea also is worrisome. If you feel something’s not right, see your doctor.