Quick diagnosis gets cancer patient on road to recovery
When 64-year-old Donald “Chip” Lesch started experiencing severe chills last summer, his wife, Sheryl, knew something wasn’t right.
They soon found out that Chip had ampullary cancer, which forms in a person’s ampulla of Vater, where the bile and pancreatic ducts come together and empty into the small intestine.
Signs and symptoms appear early
“Ampullary cancer is a relatively rare cancer,” says Dr. Andrew Albert, gastroenterologist with the Digestive Health Institute at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “The good news is it tends to cause symptoms right away, often allowing us to identify the cancer early on. Early diagnosis gives patients an increased chance of survival.”
As they begin growing, ampullary tumors often block a person’s bile duct, causing bile to build up and symptoms to begin, Dr. Albert says.
Symptoms of ampullary cancer include:
- Jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Dark urine
- Blood in the stool or black stools
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss
If you experience these symptoms, let your doctor know.
Making a diagnosis quickly
“Chip is a Christian scientist—medicine is foreign to him,” Sheryl says. “When he started having symptoms, I knew he wouldn’t agree to go to the emergency room, but I thought I could get him to go to our internist, who respects our feelings toward medicine and takes natural approaches whenever possible.”
Upon receiving the results of blood work, Chip’s internist referred him to Dr. Albert. Because of Chip’s symptoms, Dr. Albert said he knew he needed to move quickly to determine what was going on.
“From the moment Dr. Albert met with us, his office guided us quickly through all the tests I needed, not sparing any time,” Chip says. “In fact, when he saw the results of our ultrasound, he ran out to our car as we were leaving the parking garage to tell us so I could schedule the next steps immediately.”
Within a few days, Chip was back at the hospital for an endoscopy with Dr. Albert. Dr. Albert partnered with his colleague, gastroenterologist Dr. Michael Flicker, so Dr. Flicker could perform a biopsy right then if needed.
“They sent the biopsy to pathology immediately,” Sheryl says. “We had the results before Chip was out of anesthesia.”
This collaborative, efficient process helped get Chip’s diagnosis determined within days, Dr. Albert says.
“People here work well together, and because of that, we’re able to provide very personalized, patient-centered care,” Dr. Albert says. “I’m so proud of what we can accomplish for our patients when we put our minds together.”
Treatment with the Whipple procedure
Ampullary cancers are usually treated with a surgery called the Whipple procedure, a special surgery used for pancreatic cancer and related conditions, says Dr. Albert. When ampullary cancer is found early, as in Chip’s case, the survival rate is quite high.
Chip had the Whipple procedure at another hospital. Today, he says is feeling great and has no signs of cancer.
“I’m grateful to all the clinicians who treated me, but especially Dr. Albert; Dr. Flicker; our pathologist, Dr. Michael Weldon-Linne; and everyone else we dealt with at Illinois Masonic,” Chip says. “I greatly attribute my success to their team and getting us on the right track right away. The personalized service and compassion we received was unmatched—it was all just first-class.”
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