Digestive Health Center
Advanced Expertise, Comprehensive Care for Cancers of the Digestive Tract
The Maine Digestive Health Center (DHC) at MMC provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for acute and chronic gastrointestinal (GI), hepatic, and pancreaticobiliary diseases, including all cancers of the digestive tract. The Maine DHC offers patients streamlined access to a range of advanced diagnostic and treatment services as well as a level of clinical expertise that is unparalleled in Maine.
The Maine DHC's multidisciplinary model of care means that all the appropriate specialists involved in the evaluation and management of GI cancers work together to determine the optimal evaluation and course of treatment for each patient. Oncologic surgeons, gastroenterologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pathologists and other clinicians with specialized knowledge of these malignancies collaborate and meet weekly, sharing their expertise on each patient's case. A critical member of the team of experts is an experienced oncology-certified clinical patient navigator to help coordinate care on behalf of the patient.
These specialists also work together to continually develop and refine evidence-based, best-practice protocols to ensure patient care that is consistent and well-coordinated. In the management of digestive cancers, the ultimate goal is for patient outcomes that meet or exceed national benchmarks. Maine Medical Center performs the largest volume of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ECRP) in northern New England, a state -of- the-art procedure to diagnose problems in the liver, gallbladder, bile ducts and pancreas. MMC was the first hospital in northern New England to offer endoscopic ultrasonography (EUS), which plays an important role in the diagnosis, tissue sampling and staging of digestive malignancies.
No other hospital in Maine offers this depth and breadth of clinical expertise and experience in treating GI cancers. For example, MMC is the only hospital in the state with a fellowship-trained surgical oncologist, three board-certified colorectal surgeons and a group of highly trained GI endoscopy specialists.
In particular, MMC's Pancreaticobiliary Center, led by Douglas A. Howell, MD, has evolved into a nationally recognized center-of-excellence in the evaluation and management of patients with complex benign and malignant disease of the pancreas and biliary tract. The Pancreaticobiliary Center also is one of a select group of programs nationally that offer a one-year Advanced Interventional Training fellowship for graduates of standard three-year gastroenterology training programs who wish to pursue more intensive experience in this area.
The Maine Digestive Health Center team's commitment to outstanding patient care is augmented by the latest advances in surgical, endoscopic and interventional radiology techniques. The Maine DHC stays on the leading edge of therapy by participating in clinical research, giving patients access to the latest treatment protocols through appropriate clinical trials - resources that may not be available at other hospitals.
Types of cancer treated
The specialists of the Maine Digestive Health Center treat the following cancers:
- Colorectal cancer
- Esophageal cancer (including pre-cancerous Barrett's esophagus)
- Gastric (stomach) and appendiceal cancer
- Gall bladder and bile duct (biliary) cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Liver cancer (primary and metastatic)
Comprehensive diagnostic and treatment resources
The Maine DHC provides a full range of patient evaluation and clinical care resources for colorectal, esophageal, liver and pancreatic malignancies, including:
- A state-of-the-art endoscopy unit staffed by 12 sub-specialty trained gastroenterologists - more than at any other Maine hospital - for the diagnosis and treatment of cancers of the digestive tract
- Advanced endoscopic procedures including ERCP and EUS
- Advanced technology utilized in the Pancreaticobiliary Center, such as the SpyGlass scope and SMASH biopsy technique that can allow immediate biopsy result to determine if a tumor is cancerous
- Colonoscopy screening, diagnosis and surveillance, as well as the availability of CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy)
- Advanced molecular biological diagnostic techniques
- A highly skilled surgical staff, including the only three board-certified colorectal surgeons in Maine
- Advanced surgical techniques such as the Whipple procedure (pancreatoduodenectomy) for pancreatic cancer
- Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery
- Leading-edge interventional radiological procedures for the treatment of liver cancer including chemoembolization (the delivery of a targeted dose of chemotherapy directly to a tumor), and radiofrequency ablation (an image-guided technique that kills cancer cells by heating and destroying them)
- The first-in-Maine availability of non-surgical technology through the use of ablation of Barrett's esophagus, which is the use of electrical energy to remove the diseased layer of cells from the esophagus. This option may eliminate the disease before it has the opportunity to progress to cancer
- The latest, most-effective medical oncology (chemotherapy) and radiation oncology treatment regimens
- For patients with a family history of cancers of the digestive tract or other special concerns, risk assessment, genetic testing and genetic counseling are available by referral to the MMC Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic, the only service of its kind in Maine
Clinical Nurse Patient Navigator
Our Clinical Patient Navigators are key members of the Digestive Health Center team. These oncology-certified registered nurses help patients with lower and upper gastrointestinal cancers during the diagnosis and staging process by coordinating their care. Perhaps most importantly, the Patient Navigator ensures that patients know that they're not alone, and remains available to them throughout their cancer journey. After the patient's initial clinic appointment, ongoing access to the services of the Patient Navigator continues to be provided free of charge. Patients may call or visit the Patient Navigator as often as needed in order to feel comfortable and confident about their treatment decision.
In addition to the services of the Oncology Dietitian, Nutritional Services Support Team at Maine Medical Center rounds on adult and pediatric inpatients with nutritional issues. A multidisciplinary team consisting of gastroenterologists with specific training in nutrition, dietitians, and other health care professionals assures admitted patients with nutritional issues such as malnutrition or TPN, including oncology patients, are closely followed. This service is provided at no charge.
Many of the clinical services provided for patients with gastrointestinal, liver and pancreatic cancer are on the Bramhall campus, and some are offered at our affiliated practice sites. Most of the specialty physicians require a referral from a primary care physician.