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Navicent Health Employs Innovative Tools to Identify, Remove Cancerous and Precancerous Cells

Three New Techniques Enhance Early Diagnosis, Treatment of Pancreas Cancer

MACON, GA (Tuesday, September 8, 2015) - Physicians at The Medical Center, Navicent Health (MCNH) recently became the first in the U.S. and first in the state to offer new endoscopic tools that will assist in the early detection and treatment of pancreas and bile duct cancers.

On July 14, 2015, Dr. Joel Judah, gastroenterologist/advanced endoscopist with Atrium Health Navicent Physician Group, became the first physician in the United States to use the WATS3D Biopsy brush platform to evaluate a pancreas cyst for potential cancer.

The WATS3D platform provides computer assisted three dimensional analysis of tissue, allowing physicians at MCNH to better evaluate for the presence of pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. A brush gently removes cells that could potentially lead to cancer, and the brush containing the cells is then sent for laboratory analysis. Although WATS3D has proven effective in diagnosing and treating a precancerous condition known as Barrett's esophagus, Dr. Judah innovatively repurposed the tool to assist with the identification of abnormal cells in a patient's pancreas.

“The WATS3D Biopsy brushing system is a new endoscopy technique that we have adopted at the Medical Center, Navicent Health. While traditional biopsies target a specific portion of tissue, WATS3D is an advancement allowing us to brush the entire surface area of suspicious tissue and send for analysis,” said Dr. Judah.

Once the cells are collected, the specimen is read using a computerized three dimensional scan that identifies abnormal cells. This method has led to faster and more accurate diagnoses of Barrett's esophagus, and leaders at MCNH hope to offer the same benefits to those at risk for pancreas cancer.

“Our innovative physicians have taken this proven technique to the next level by using it on a pancreas cyst for the very first time. Pancreas cancer has long been a devastating diagnosis with a poor survival rate. While pancreas cyst brushing is a new idea, we believe it holds great promise for quickly identifying abnormal cells and obtaining greater diagnostic yield,” said Dr. Fady Wanna, Chief Medical Officer and Chief Clinical Officer for Atrium Health Navicent.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), 48,960 new cases of pancreas cancer will be diagnosed in 2015. Based on statistics gathered from 2004 to 2010, ACS estimates the five-year survival rate of pancreas cancer to be seven percent.

“Early diagnosis is key to improving a patient's chances of survival. That is what we hope to achieve through our advanced diagnostic techniques. We applaud our physicians and the innovative measures they are taking to improve patient care outcomes,” said Dr. Robert DiRenzo, Chief Operating Officer, Atrium Health Navicent Enterprise Clinical Systems.

Those advanced diagnostic techniques are not limited to WATS3D. Physicians at MCNH have also recently utilized a tool known as Cellvizio to offer optical biopsies during standard endoscopy procedures. Cellvizio allows the physician to instantly view internal tissues at the microscopic level. Studies have shown that having this cell-by-cell view of the lining of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract can lead to improved detection and quicker treatment for those with cell abnormalities.

“While this technique is also traditionally used to evaluate Barrett's esophagus, we at the Medical Center, Navicent Health are not only using it for this purpose, but also for identifying abnormal cells in the pancreas. Specifically, we can use this probe in a pancreas cyst to obtain better information about its makeup,” said Dr. Judah.

MCNH is the first Georgia hospital outside of the Atlanta area to utilize Cellvizio's advanced imaging technology for detection of abnormalities in the pancreas.

“Cellvizio allows rapid response and treatment for the patient by providing visual information about internal tissues at the patient's bedside. This allows us to immediately determine whether abnormal tissue is benign or malignant, and thus guide treatment decisions in real-time,” said Dr. Judah.  

A growing body of published clinical data shows that by adding Cellvizio to colonoscopies, endoscopies and standard pancreatic and bile duct exams, physicians are able to more accurately differentiate cancerous and precancerous changes in tissue. Additionally, more meaningful biopsies can be obtained for specially trained pathologists to examine.  In some cases, physicians have been able to perform minimally invasive treatments for conditions that traditionally required major surgical operations because of the improved view and understanding of the tissue.
To use Cellvizio, the tiny microscope is threaded through a traditional endoscope like a catheter or biopsy forceps, while the patient is having an endoscopy. The microstructure of the digestive tract appears in real time on the screen, allowing the physician to recognize typical features of healthy and diseased tissue. MCNH is one of about 95 centers in the U.S. using Cellvizio. Emory Healthcare is currently the only other hospital in the state to employ this tool for use in the pancreas and bile duct.
 “Early detection and treatment are key to preventing cancer. By incorporating WATS3D with Cellvizio, we are able to develop multi-modality diagnostics that will tremendously benefit our patients. Atrium Health Navicent is leading the healthcare industry by innovatively incorporating these technologies into patient care,” said Dr. Wanna.    

In addition to these two techniques, MCNH now offers an improved treatment option for patients diagnosed with cancer. On July 21, 2015, Dr. Judah became the first in Georgia to perform bile duct radiofrequency ablation (RFA) with the Emcision Habib EndHPB probe. The probe uses radiofrequency ablation to cauterize cancerous cells in the bile duct  when the area is not surgically resectable.  This treatment is useful both for primary cancers of the bile duct, and for other cancers in nearby organs (like the pancreas) that have invaded into the bile duct. Physicians at MCNH are able to view the bile duct tumor through a digital scope while performing the procedure, and assess the area after the procedure to ensure effective treatment. 

“Data thus far is showing that this procedure slows and prevents recurrent cancer growth into the bile duct. This procedure is proving useful when paired with traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and should benefit patients. We are excited to offer an additional treatment option for patients with these types of cancers,” said Dr. Judah.