Digestive Health Specialists, Closer to Home

UPMC’s broad range of regionally ranked gastrointestinal services in Pittsburgh’s northern communities offer local patients access to world-class care and top experts — without the need to travel into the city.  Healthy digestion is something we all take for granted — until something goes wrong.

Gastrointestinal (GI) woes can wreak havoc with your life, causing problems like heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, and vomiting.

At UPMC Passavant–McCandless, boardcertified gastroenterologists use the latest technology and procedures to prevent, diagnose, and treat a wide range of digestive conditions — delivered in a special patient-centered suite designed for privacy and comfort.

Last year, more than 13,000 procedures were performed at the hospital’s GI Center — one of the busiest GI labs in western Pennsylvania. In 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked UPMC Passavant–McCandless second in the Pittsburgh region for gastroenterology and GI surgery. (The only area hospital ranking higher was UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside.)

The UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center draws patients from throughout the tri-state region. With eight endoscopy and fluoroscopy procedure rooms, it is one of the largest GI labs in the Pittsburgh region. Designed for comfort and privacy, the center also features 26 private patient rooms for use pre-procedure and during recovery.

Gastroenterologists treat a wide range of digestive conditions, including colorectal cancer and disorders of the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, colon, pancreas, liver, and biliary tract.

Jan Ravi, MD, a gastroenterologist at UPMC Passavant and Gastroenterology Associates of Pittsburgh–UPMC, says it’s important not to ignore worrisome symptoms. For example, persistent heartburn can be a sign of Barrett’s esophagus — a condition that increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

“It’s essential to see a doctor for persistent symptoms to find out if the condition is harmless or serious. If it is serious, it’s best treated in the early stages when it is most treatable,” says Dr. Ravi.

Preventing Colon Cancer

One of the most powerful tools available for preventing cancer is the colonoscopy. It uses a small camera to examine the colon and is the most common GI procedure performed at UPMC Passavant–McCandless.

“When caught early, colon cancer is treatable,” says Michelle Victain, DO, a gastroenterologist at Associates in Gastroenterology– UPMC. “Screening enables us to remove polyps before they become cancerous.”

Colon cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening is so important. A colonoscopy detects polyps — abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. They are then removed during the procedure and tested. Some forms of colorectal cancer are slow growing, taking months to years to develop, she adds.

Dr. Victain recommends colonoscopy screening for everyone age 45 and older. Lowrisk patients should have a colonoscopy every 10 years and those who have polyps and other risk factors, like a family history of colon cancer, should have more frequent screenings.

Diagnosing Digestive Conditions and Disorders

As many as 70 million people in the United States have a digestive disorder. If your doctor suspects you have a digestive disorder, screenings and tests will ensure the most accurate diagnosis.

Meet Our GI Experts in Ross Township, Wexford, and Cranberry

Associates in Gastroenterology–UPMC – Michael L. Mlecko, MD James A. Pilla, DO Michelle S. Victain, DO Kayla Guntrum, CRNP Halie Banas, PA-C Nicole M. Bowan, PA-C – 5500 Brooktree Road, Suite 201, Wexford, PA 15090 724-933-1420
Gastroenterology Associates of Pittsburgh–UPMC – Frank J. Koziara, II, MD Andrew W. Thomas, MD Deepa Mani, PA-C Jan Ravi, MD Anna M. David, PA-C Kristen M. Zon, PA-C – 3285 Babcock Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15237 412-318-0075 1 St. Francis Way, Building 3, Suite 211 Cranberry Township, PA 16066 724-935-8452

Seven Reasons to See a GI Doctor

Everyone has heartburn or “tummy troubles” from time to time. But if your abnormal GI symptoms are becoming your new normal, it’s time to see a doctor. Some digestive problems can become chronic, while others may last only a short time. Seeing a professional can help minimize your condition and speed your recovery.

Here are seven signs of possible problems a GI doctor should evaluate:

1. A change in bowel habits

2. Abdominal pain

3. Acid reflux or heartburn

4. Difficulty swallowing

5. Nausea or vomiting

6. Persistent diarrhea, constipation, gas, or bloating

7. Unintentional weight loss

“No symptom should be ignored. Talk to your doctor first about your symptoms,” says Dr. Victain.

At UPMC Passavant–McCandless, gastroenterologists perform a full range of GI procedures. They include colonoscopies and endoscopies and more complex endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP). These advanced procedures require special training.

Dr. Ravi uses ERCP, which combines x-ray and endoscopy, to examine and treat problems affecting the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and bile ducts.

Dr. Victain is one of the few doctors in western Pennsylvania with advanced training in endoscopic ultrasound. This minimally invasive outpatient procedure allows her to diagnose GI tract malignancies and other pancreaticobiliary or GI disorders without major surgery. It combines endoscopy and ultrasound to create detailed images of the digestive tract and surrounding organs and tissues.

Other advanced diagnostic and treatment capabilities available at the GI Center include:

• BARRX procedure to destroy pre-cancerous cells in the esophagus with radio frequency ablation

GI Services at UPMC Passavant

A comprehensive range of screening, diagnostic testing, and treatment services are offered at UPMC Passavant’s GI Center, including:

• BARRX ® procedure

• Bravo TM esophageal pH test

• Breath tests

• Colonic stenting

• Colonoscopy

• Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP)

• Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

• Endoscopy

• Esophageal and colon dilation

• Esophageal manometry

• Flexible sigmoidoscopy

• Ileoscopy

• Peg tube placement

• Single balloon enteroscopy

• Bravo esophageal pH test to check for and treat acid reflux disease

• Single balloon enteroscopy to inspect the small bowel

A Collaborative Approach

Many GI conditions can be treated with medicine or a minimally invasive procedure. If patients do need surgery, UPMC Passavant–McCandless gastroenterologists work closely with the hospital’s colorectal and general surgeons. They also work with specialists at the UPMC Digestive Disorders Center to ensure patients receive the care they need.

“We work as a team — it’s all collaborative,” says Dr. Ravi. “We all work together to provide the best care for patients.”

Michael Mlecko, MD, a gastroenterologist at UPMC Passavant and Associates in Gastroenterology–UPMC, says they work closely with the hospital’s general surgeons when patients need surgery for gallbladder and pancreatic diseases. He adds that they even work closely with UPMC Passavant thoracic surgeons. “They help us with our patients who have intractable heartburn and esophageal tumors,” he says.

David Medich, MD, chief of UPMC colorectal surgery, says patients benefit from having exemplary GI doctors. He relies on the information they provide to plan and perform precise surgery.

David Medich, MD, chief of UPMC colorectal surgery

“Great patient care happens at UPMC Passavant–McCandless and the GI team is every bit a part of that,” says

Dr. Medich. “As someone who shares care for a lot of patients with them, I can honestly say I trust them. They are highly qualified, skilled, and compassionate doctors and I’m proud to work with them.” Learn more at UPMCPassavant.com/GI. 

The information in this article was provided by UPMC.

BARRX® is a trademark of Medtronic. Bravo™ is a trademark of BreviTest Technologies, LLC.

Beating Cancer with Surveillance Colonoscopies

Ken Senatore gets emotional when he talks about his team of doctors at UPMC Passavant–McCandless. He’s been a patient of Dr. Ravi since 1998. That’s when he was diagnosed at age 36 with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes irritation and ulcers in the large intestine.

Other than a couple of flareups, a low-dose maintenance drug kept Ken’s disease in check for the next two decades. Because patients with ulcerative colitis have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, Dr. Ravi recommended regular colonoscopies. Ken initially went to the UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center every three or four years for a colonoscopy. He began having annual colonoscopies once he hit the 15- year mark.

All were uneventful until December 2018. “Dr. Ravi found a suspicious lesion during a routine colonoscopy. A biopsy confirmed it was cancerous,” says Ken, now 59, who works as a risk manager.

Dr. Ravi referred the Franklin Park resident to Dr. Medich, a colorectal surgeon at UPMC, who specializes in the care of patients with rectal cancer and ulcerative colitis. Ken was relieved to learn Dr. Medich could remove the cancer without removing his entire colon, which would have required drastic lifestyle changes.

In mid-January 2019, Dr. Medich performed a right colectomy, removing about half of Ken’s colon during the surgery at UPMC Passavant–Mc- Candless. Ken also underwent a brief round of chemotherapy as an “insurance policy” to kill off any remaining cancer cells.

“It was an aggressive cancer that was successfully removed. I’m cancer-free after three years and doing fine,” says Ken. Following his doctors’ advice, he started exercising. Ken’s current routine includes walking at least two miles daily and running three to four days a week.

“My doctors were fantastic. I’m very fortunate that Dr. Ravi was so adamant about the need for regular colonoscopies to watch for and identify the cancer. And Dr. Medich was a godsend,” says Ken. “My life would be so different now without the care they gave me.”

Ken says he appreciates having the UPMC Passavant–McCandless GI Center so close to home and with ample parking. He also praises the staff for always making him feel so comfortable during his colonoscopies.

“I can’t say enough about the care I’ve received during my colonoscopies and my surgery. Everyone was phenomenal,” he says.