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Esophageal cancer isn’t very common. But the number of cases is increasing and has been doing so for the last ten years. Dr. Peter Ramsey, gastroenterologist with CoxHealth, says, as the population ages, it’s becoming more of an issue.
Usually, by the time esophageal cancer is diagnosed, it’s difficult to treat. Chemotherapy and radiation are required before surgery can be done to try to cure it…
"And the long-term rates of survival from esophageal cancer are quite low. Survival of five years or longer after the diagnosis is usually between 20 and 30%."
Physicians aren’t sure exactly what causes esophageal cancer. But one thing that can lead to it is a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which affects nearly two million people in the U.S. each year. According to Dr. Ramsey, it’s a change in the lining of the cells that line the esophagus…
"And acid reflux tends to cause a change in the lining of the cells, and that change can be inflamation or it can be Barrett's esophagus."
Studies have shown that those with Barrett’s esophagus have a half to one percent chance of developing cancer of the esophagus. While Dr. Ramsey says the condition isn’t a strong precursor to the cancer, it’s the only know precursor…
"So, we concentrate on that because we can potentially how that affects the patient and how it develops to cancer."
According to Dr. Ramsey, there are usually no symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus. Physicians look for risk factors including a history of acid reflux, being overweight and being middle-aged or older. Patients with those risk factors may be referred for an endoscopy to see if Barrett’s esophagus is present.
Several procedures have been used in the past to treat the condition, but Dr. Ramsey says they had significant side effects and weren’t widely used. But a treatment that’s been offered since last October at Cox offers hope for those with Barrett’s esophagus. The HALO Ablation System sends radiowaves from a catheter that’s placed inside the esophagus during the procedure…
"And it basically burns a very superficial layer of the tissue in the esophagus--that Barrett's esophagus--and that tissue sloughs off and allows the opportunity for new, normal tissue to grow."
According to Dr. Ramsey, the success rates for endoscopic radiofrequency ablation therapy vary from 80% to more than 95%.
So far at Cox, about a dozen patients are scheduled for HALO Ablation or have already undergone the procedure. It’s often a two-part process. A re-check is done after two months, and if necessary, the procedure is repeated.
Ramsey says Barrett’s esophagus usually starts with GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, so it’s important to seek medical treatment for symptoms of GERD, the most common being heartburn.
For KSMU News, I’m Michele Skalicky.