Patients visiting NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center will frequently see and hear the term"multidisciplinary center." Indeed, Columbia is home to dozens of multidisciplinary centers devoted to the comprehensive care of specific disease areas such as breast cancer, obesity, and heart failure. While the significance of the term may go unrecognized by some, the presence of such centers can be vital, if not lifesaving, for conditions requiring comprehensive care across multiple specialties.
Such is the case with the Pancreas Center. Directed by John A. Chabot, MD, FACS, this special team treats patients with pancreatitis, pancreatic and duodenal cancer, as well as precancerous conditions of the pancreas and duodenum. The center's experts include oncologists to diagnose and treat cancers; geneticists to identify members of patients' families who may be at risk; diagnostic and interventional gastroenterologists to help pinpoint problems and provide immediate relief of acute disorders; surgeons to perform diagnostic and therapeutic operations, and nurse practitioners to help coordinate patients' care throughout their treatment at Columbia.
According to Beth Schrope, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor of Surgery, the close collaboration among members of the Pancreas Center translates into far better care for patients than what could be provided by physicians working in isolation. "We trust each other fully and we confer on a regular basis," she says. "Pancreatic diseases are complex, and the team approach helps ensure the best outcome for every patient."
Patient Julie Houston could not agree more. After experiencing abdominal symptoms including acute pancreatitis in December 2005, Julie was treated with a temporary stent to open a blockage in her pancreatic duct. At that time, tests indicated there was no cancer. She firmly believed her symptoms were related to a blood pressure medication and, determined to avoid complex surgery, she insisted on waiting to see if they would subside. The team allowed her five weeks of careful observation. Her stent was removed, but the blockage remained.
"Then Dr. Chabot called and told me that the team felt I needed aWhipple procedure right away to find out what was going on." Surprised by his mention of a 'team,' Julie learned that about a dozen specialists had been conferring regularly about her condition, including Dr. Schrope, Harold Frucht, MD, Director of Gastrointestinal Oncology and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Stavros Stavropoulos, MD, Director of Endoscopic Ultrasound Procedures and Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, Robert Fine, MD, Director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program and Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Medicine and Abby B. Siegel, MD, Medical Director of Hepatobiliary Oncology, and their assistants. All of them agreed on the urgency of surgery to check for the presence of cancer. "I was taken aback when Dr. Chabot told me that Dr. Stavropoulos could not sleep at night because he was concerned about me," Julie recounts. It was then that I realized surgery was inevitable."
Persuaded by the team's collective concern and their suspicion of a tumor, Julie agreed to have theWhipple procedure in April 2006. Fortunately for her, this was early enough for the surgeons to find her cancer before it had the chance to spread to other organs. At just 2.2 cm in size, the tumor had been missed by all the imaging and other diagnostic tests.
Following surgery, Julie completed a course of chemotherapy and continues to be monitored for signs of recurrence. Her prognosis is very good, and today she enjoys an active schedule of swimming, hiking, and travel. "Had it not been for this multidisciplinary team," she states simply, "I would not be here today."
Although the center was established just three years ago, its volume has grown rapidly, and it is now recognized as a Pancreas Center of Excellence.
To learn more about the Pancreas Center, please visit www.pancreasmd.org or call 855-CUSURGE.
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