On the Outside Looking In: Diagnosing Digestive Cancers with Sound

Did you know that a physician is able to look inside a patient’s body and diagnose certain cancers without the need for surgery? Endoscopic ultrasound is used to put their eyes and ears inside the body but without the need for surgery. The endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) was created in the 1980’s, but recent leading-edge technology now delivers a more accurate diagnosis of digestive cancers. EUS is extremely accurate because of its positioning where an ultrasound probe is placed inside the patient. Once inside, it uses high-frequency ultrasound that delivers pictures so sharp they allow physicians to accurately determine the stage in which the cancers have progressed.

How does EUS work?

According to Melvin K. Lau, MD, gastroenterologist at Scott & White Healthcare – Round Rock, a slender tube is inserted either in the patient’s mouth or rectum. Attached to the tip of the tube is a microchip television camera that transmits crisp, clear images to a television monitor. A second TV monitor displays an ultrasound image, which is picked up from the same tube. It’s this new ultrasound technology that allows physicians to see further into the body than ever before.

EUS Advantages

“The radar-like shadow image produced by EUS can detect small tumors that abdominal ultrasounds and CT cannot, and help determine whether cancers, such as esophageal, gastric, pancreatic and rectal, have spread throughout the body,” said Dr. Lau. The procedure can also reveal whether certain malignancies are too invasive for surgery to remedy. Additionally, EUS can be used to detect common bile duct stones, and to obtain tissue biopsies of the liver and other organs that are difficult to obtain by other means.

Before EUS, tumor detection, biopsy and cancer staging would have required more invasive methods like conventional surgery. By using EUS, there is reduced pain, shortened recovery time, and considerable savings in possible surgery costs.

Who is a candidate for EUS?

Dr. Lau explains that EUS can be applied to many different specialties, particularly in diagnosing lung cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, and rectal cancer. It can assist in evaluating patients with deep tissue “lumps or bumps” in the gastrointestinal tract, and in treating abdominal pain due to pancreatic cancer and various abdominal cancers.

EUS is also able to perform fine-needle aspiration, or biopsy, which is an important technique in assessing the following:

  • Whether a mass is cancerous and if it has spread to the lymph nodes
  • Submucosal masses in the gastrointestinal tract
  • Enlarged stomach folds that may be cancerous, but are unreachable by surface biopsies
  • Biopsy of tumors within the chest that are otherwise very difficult to access
  • Biopsy of tumors or lymph nodes in the pelvis for rectal cancers
  • Injection of pain relieving drugs for nerve blocks

Gastroenterologists at Scott & White in Temple also perform this procedure, which is a part of the cancer and gastroenterology services offered in Temple.

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On the Outside Looking In: Diagnosing Digestive Cancers with Sound