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New procedure making it easier for doctors to study patient liver samples

When something may be wrong with your liver, doctors often will order a biopsy to get to the bottom of the problem. Up until now, it’s a procedure that hurts a lot and can be inaccurate, but a new method is being called a game-changer for patients.

Zachary Ross couldn’t ignore some symptoms that were bad and getting worse.

“I was in a lot of pain and uncomfortability in my abdomen,” explained Ross.

A liver biopsy was needed. But finding one that could deliver an accurate diagnosis wasn’t easy. His first test took a sample from only one liver lobe.

“It’s taking a pretty big long needle, going through the skin and into the liver to get a piece of the tissue,” shared Ann M. Chen, MD, Interventional Endoscopist, Associate Chief, Department of Gastroenterology, Santa Clara Medical Center, Affiliated Associate Clinical Professor, Stanford University School of Medicine Gastroenterologist.

“You can watch it and see it actually going into your abdomen to sit there and remove a chunk for this biopsy,” stated Ross.

“All that was obtained were fibrin, little pieces of clot,” continued Dr. Chen.

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Zachary’s doctors then tried a new approach called an endoscopic ultrasound liver biopsy.

“So, we can target a needle biopsy very nicely directly into the liver and thereby minimizing potential risks of perforation or bleeding,” said Dr. Chen. 

Longer tissue samples are taken from both lobes of the liver, increasing the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis to 90 percent.

“We were able to find a cause for his liver disease and help him avoid toxins that were affecting his liver,” Dr. Chen explained.

“I was real happy that this one actually got results,” Ross said.   

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And just as important …  

“Didn’t feel a thing,” smiled Ross.

Santa Clara Valley Medical, where Zachary had his procedure, is one of ten locations across the country that performs the endoscopic ultrasound liver biopsy. Other locations include Pennsylvania and Chicago. That number is expected to increase as more doctors learn the technology.      

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Contributors to this news report include: Jennifer Winter, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Rusty Reed, Videographer.