LAFAYETTE, La. (IND) – Lafayette General Medical Center has invested in a new endoscopy tool that enables its physicians to more accurately diagnose ailments in the gastrointestinal tract using endoscopic ultrasound, technology that is keeping patients from traveling to New Orleans for a similar procedure.

“Endoscopic ultrasound is a technology that allows us to attach an ultrasound probe to an actual endoscope,” says Dr. Eric Trawick, a gastroenterologist with the Lafayette General Endoscopy Center who is specifically trained in using the equipment. “So instead of just using a camera and optics to look in the GI tract, we can also use the ultrasound to look through the GI tract to see what’s on the other side. So you can look at organs or structures outside the GI tract from the scope.”

The machine is a multi-purpose unit called the ProSound F75 Ultrasound Imaging Platform, a precision diagnostic system that gives physicians the highest quality imaging available, in turn allowing them to make much more accurate diagnosis of diseases including a variety of cancers in the GI tract and in neighboring organs like the pancreas, bile duct, liver, spleen and gallbladder.

“Endoscopic ultrasound can be used on both the upper and the lower GI tract,” says Trawick. “Common uses are for diagnosis and staging of esophageal cancer, gastric cancer, pancreatic cancer and rectal cancer. It can also be used by lung doctors. They actually can do the same thing to look at masses within the lungs.”

The ProSound equipment combines ultrasound technology with endoscopic tools to better visualize tissues in the digestive tract along with adjacent anatomical structures inside the human body. Usually, ultrasound equipment requires gel and a transducer rubbed across the skin to produce images of the internal organs. But with endoscopic ultrasound, the transducer is inserted into the body via the digestive tract, which puts it closer to the area of interest in order to obtain high resolution images.

“The endoscopic ultrasound allows you to take the ultrasound image from within the body instead of outside, so you’re able to avoid a lot of interference from skin, muscle, fat and other things that get in the way of the ultrasound waves to get much more streamlined images of internal structures,” says Trawick.

Information gathered by the endoscopic ultrasound can be used by Lafayette General’s surgeons for procedures like tissue biopsies to confirm the presence of a cancer and can also aid them in staging a cancer. It can also provide anatomical information about surrounding structures like blood vessels. This kind of supplementary information helps both surgeons and oncologists in making immediate decisions, like whether a cancerous tumor can safely be removed.

“It gives additional information to complement CT scans and MRIs from an imaging standpoint,” says Trawick. “There’s really no comparison of technology in the GI tract. It’s completely different than anything we’ve had before.”

Trawick gives an example of someone being admitted for abdominal pain who undergoes a CT scan that finds a mass in the patient’s pancreas. The CT scan can see that something is there, but it cannot tell the physician what kind of tissue it is. Using the endoscopic ultrasound, the physician can place a scope in the patient’s stomach and use the ultrasound to look through the stomach wall to see the pancreas and the mass. Then a needle can be passed through the scope to physically poke through the wall of the stomach and biopsy the mass to gather the actual tissue cells for the pathologists to analyze. At that point they can determine if the mass in the pancreas is consistent with a pancreatic cancer.

“So now the patient has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer whereas before all we had was a CT scan saying there’s something in your pancreas,” adds Trawick. “So I would say it’s a game changer from that standpoint.

“This is information that our surgeons and oncologists use every week on patients here in Lafayette and the Acadiana area,” says Trawick. “They were having to refer people to New Orleans and Houston to do endoscopic ultrasound, and now people are not having to travel to New Orleans or Houston to have this procedure done. We’re able to do it right here at Lafayette General and give them all of the information that they need.”

[This article originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of The Independent and on]