Miniature camera used to detect cancer in bile duct



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Posted on January 6, 2010 at 6:30 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 6 at 6:56 PM

When cancer spreads to the liver it can go to the bile duct, making it difficult to detect. That's because this area is buried deep within major organs. Now, a tiny camera could mean a quicker diagnosis and better treatment for patients.

Laura Davis is formidable at family trivia games.

But for the last seven years, she's battled a tougher opponent: breast cancer.

"Every day, I just try to be normal, as normal as possible, every day," she said.

Her cancer has come  back three times. This time doctors worried it might have spread to her bile duct. Typically, they've relied on x-rays or biopsies for diagnosis, which can be inaccurate and painful.

Doctor Michel Kahaleh, Director of Pancreatic-Biliary Services at the University of Virginia, uses a new technology called SpyGlass.

"The concept is what you see better, you can treat better," said Kahaleh.

A fiber optic probe with a miniature camera is placed down the patient's throat and travels all the way to the bile duct. It magnifies the area to show cancer, benign tumors and stones in real time.

"Now, we can finally see all those diseases that we were suspecting," said Kahaleh.

If cancer is present, doctors can immediately use a laser to destroy it. In a study, using SpyGlass with laser therapy more than doubled survival rates. Luckily, Davis' bile duct was clear and Dr. Kahaleh was able to tell her the good news on the spot.

"The more information you can get, the better off you are as a patient," said Kahaleh.

Now, she enjoys family time knowing doctors are keeping a closer eye on her cancer.

"Every day that I can be strong and fight is another day with them," said Kahaleh.

Doctors say this technology could soon be used to detect and treat cancers in the pancreas as well.