Hepato - what?!


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Each of us have an understanding of how the body works. We know our major organs, our bones (to some extent) and we most always know when something is broken or not working as it should. But how many of us have ever heard of a medical term and wondered – What on Earth could that be?

Let’s take a moment and introduce a new term to describe a discipline of medicine that focuses on the study, prevention, diagnosis, management and treatment of diseases that affect the liver, pancreas and gallbladder – hepato-pancreatico-biliary.

Hepato-pancreatico-biliary or HPB, as often referred, is a very specialized practice of surgery that helps prevent and/or manage chronic diseases such as hepatitis, liver/pancreas/or bile duct cancers, and acute and chronic pancreatitis - two very common disease states in the liver and pancreas. So common, that according to the CDC, more than 3.5 million Americans are living with a Hepatitis C diagnosis or the virus that causes inflammation of the liver which can lead to liver cancer or the need for a liver transplant. So what does this all mean and why is it important?

“We are experiencing an uptick in liver and pancreatic disease in the Valley, in both young and older patients” said Dr. Thomas Chirichella, Hepato-pancreatico-biliary Surgeon at Mercy Health – Youngstown. “Having resources, surgical technologies and expertise right here at home, allows us to serve our community in ways we have never been able to before” he said.

Dr. Chirichella and his team at Mercy Health, instituted the region’s first and only Hepatobiliary and Pancreatic Center at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. At this center, multiple different medical specialties make up the clinical team so each patient has a specialized care plan. This helps prevent, diagnose and treat patients with liver tumors and pancreatic diseases, especially cancer, while employing the latest in therapeutic and surgical technologies.

Pancreatic cancer has a long reputation of being symptom free or silent in its growth. “Since there are little to no symptoms, a screening tool has not yet been developed, but we work closely with our primary care teams to ensure that even the slightest symptom may call for specialized tests to closer examine the pancreas.” Dr. Chirichella said. For some patients, new onset middle back pain, new onset diabetes and even jaundice can all be products of an unhealthy pancreas.

For those who may end up with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, new therapies such as the latest in chemotherapy and radiation as well as state-of-the-art surgeries such as the Whipple procedure have turned a 20 percent, 5-year survival rate into that of a 50 percent, 5-year survival rate. “Within the Valley, this is wildly significant. We have higher than state average rates of liver and pancreatic cancers throughout our community” said Dr. Chirichella. “Being able to care for patients using these specialized, highly advanced procedures and therapies allows our patients and their families heal close to home. They don’t have to leave the area to get the best outcomes.” He added.

When it comes to new medical terms, hepatobiliary is a term that you hope to never hear. For those of us that might, expert, high-quality and compassionate care is right in our backyard. To learn more about the Hepatobiliary Center at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital, visit www.mercy.com or phone 330.480.6547.

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