Endoscopy is the standard of care for the diagnosis of many gastrointestinal (GI) conditions. Using a camera attached to a tube, physicians can get a close-up view of a patient’s digestive system to evaluate stomach pain, changes in bowel habits, abnormal weight loss and other symptoms.
But advances in technology are now allowing these physicians to do much more. Using the digestive tract as a pathway inside the body, gastroenterologists can diagnose, treat and prevent an increasingly wider range of conditions, even cancers.
Dr. Allen Hwang has brought these advanced endoscopy techniques to The Endoscopy Center at Lowell General Hospital, and in the process is providing hundreds of patients each year the opportunity to receive state-of-the-art GI care that only a couple of years ago required a trip into Boston or beyond.
“With endoscopic ultrasound, we are able to less invasively, more conveniently, and more efficiently diagnose a number of conditions related to the intestines, liver, and pancreas,” Dr. Hwang says.
Dr. Hwang is a board-certified gastroenterologist who performed his advanced training in endoscopy at the combined Advanced Therapeutic Endoscopy Fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Working in close conjunction with Circle Health oncologists, surgeons, radiologists and pathologists, Dr. Hwang is able to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of several potentially serious conditions without the need for open surgery.
Using advanced endoscopic techniques, Dr. Hwang can identify pancreatic cysts, which often lead to pancreatic cancer; diagnose and eradicate Barrett’s esophagus, which can become esophageal cancer; remove large polyps in the colon; and even control chronic acid reflux.
One of the most impactful new technologies is endoscopic ultrasound, which allows physicians to discover and gather information on cancers. With ultrasound, Dr. Hwang can get an ultrasound image beyond the lining of the stomach and intestines to look for tumors and even gather tissue samples for biopsy, without the need for surgery. “With endoscopic ultrasound, we are able to less invasively, more conveniently, and more efficiently diagnose a number of conditions related to the intestines, liver, and pancreas,” he says.
The information gathered through these endoscopic techniques can make a big difference in identifying the best course of treatment. “Surgeons are asking us for this piece of information – whether someone can be cured from cancer from surgery or needs prior chemotherapy or radiation,” Dr. Hwang says. “This helps us provide the appropriate care for their cancer or other conditions.”
The ability to gather vital information non-invasively and quickly means cancers are caught earlier.
“The bottom line is it’s better for the patients,” Hwang says. “When you are facing a potentially life-changing diagnosis, you want to get answers as soon as you can.”