|PATIENT STORY: RICHARD SAMONTE
Staying on top of your check-ups and screenings, such as those for prostate cancer, can pay off in unexpected ways. Tests done for one purpose sometimes flag an unrelated problem that can be even more dangerous.
That was the case for 70-year old Richard Samonte, who was successfully treated for prostate cancer in 2007. At the time, he had a pre-op MRI, which showed a cyst on the pancreas, an organ that produces insulin to help your body process sugar. Because Samonte's cyst was tiny, his urologist recommended a wait-and-see approach.
Fast forward to December 2011 when Samonte reported he'd been passing blood in his urine. This can be caused by a number of things, but not pancreatic problems.
"My doctor said, 'Let's get an MRI to rule out kidney stones,'” recalls Samonte. “There were no stones, but the MRI showed that the pancreatic cyst had tripled in size."
This growth rate was a red flag. Samonte's gastroenterologist referred him to Rameez Alasadi, MD of DuPage Medical Group. Dr. Alasadi is a gastroenterologist specially trained in endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), a procedure performed at Edward Hospital to produce images of the digestive tract and nearby organs from inside the stomach.
EUS is especially helpful in capturing images of hard-to-reach organs, such as the pancreas. Without this option, exploratory surgery is often needed to evaluate suspicious growths in these areas. Now people whose growths are benign can avoid surgery altogether.
"Regular endoscopy can see abnormalities that are on the lining of the digestive tract – like wallpaper,” says Dr. Alasadi. “Add ultrasound to the scope and you also can see what's going on in the drywall underneath the wallpaper."
Standard endoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube fitted with a tiny camera that is passed through the mouth down to the stomach. In EUS, an ultrasound device is inserted into this tube to obtain detailed images using high frequency sound waves.
EUS is the standard of care for staging esophageal, rectal and pancreatic cancers. Staging is the process of identifying how advanced and how aggressive someone's cancer is.
"Staging is important because it helps determine the appropriate treatment," says Dr. Alasadi.
During Samonte's EUS at Edward Hospital, the ultrasound also helped Dr. Alasadi guide a needle through the tube to extract a fluid sample for examination. Results showed his cyst was most likely pre-cancerous, which will be determined when Samonte undergoes surgery to remove the cyst.
"I'm glad the ultrasound procedure was available," says Samonte. "The EUS was no more difficult than an office visit. I was up and about the same day and felt no pain.
"If I hadn't had the MRIs and the bleeding – which stopped right after the MRI – things could have been much worse. My doctor said I might've been in to see him in several years with (advanced) pancreatic cancer. Some people think I was lucky, but as a religious person I have a different way of looking at it."
For more information, visit www.edward.org/endoscopy.