Health Team

New Technique Seen as Alternative to Exploratory Surgery

Posted May 16, 2007 5:20 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2007 6:08 p.m. EDT

— Doctors have several ways to look inside your body. They can do it with different imaging scans or tiny cameras, but now there is a new approach.

Endoscopic ultrasound combines a tiny camera and an ultrasound probe that goes through the intestines or down the throat.
It gives doctors and patients an alternative to exploratory surgery and a close-up look at most organs in the body.

Bill Shipp is not just one of Dr. Rig Patel's patients at Rex Hospital, but a special one. Last March, Shipp's skin turned yellowish. His doctors suspected an obstruction around the gall bladder. When CT scans did not show anything, Patel took a look with a special endoscope down the esophagus.

"It has an ultrasound probe on it, and it also has some very small cameras and light sources," Patel said.

The camera's view can be limited, but the ultrasound sees through the wall of the esophagus with a close-up view of several organs. Doppler technology shows blood moving through the heart and different vessels.

In Shipp's case, Patel found a small growth near the bile duct. Later, surgery found it was an early form of cancer in the pancreas.

"And so, we've been able to cure him essentially before that cancer was able to present itself by CT or MRI scan," Patel said.

"It makes me appreciate everyday more. It makes me appreciate particularly the skill and the technology that's available now," Shipp said.

Health experts said endoscopic ultrasound is not widely used, but like most new tools, it requires a lot of special training, not just to use the endoscope, but to develop a trained eye to recognize the organs and spot abnormalities. They said the technique is an alternative to many exploratory surgeries. Rather than recover from surgery for several days in the hospital, the process can be done in the morning and the patient can go home the same day without any scars.