Caused by Acid Reflux
Living with chronic heartburn caused by acid reflux can be a great annoyance. What most people don’t know is reflux can also lead to cancer.
When stomach acid repeatedly backs up into the lower esophagus, the normal esophageal tissue can be damaged and replaced by intestinal-type tissue — a condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus, the leading precursor for esophageal cancer.
Dr. Kevin Herlihy, attending physician at Glens Falls Hospital’s G.I. (Gastrointestinal) Center, says it is estimated that approximately three million Americans are living with this condition and the vast majority of them do not know it.
“It is extremely important that we increase awareness of Barrett’s Esophagus and its treatment,” Dr. Herlihy says. “The incidence of esophageal cancer is rising at an extremely fast rate, and most people who are diagnosed discover it at a very late stage — too late in many instances.”
Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus
Dr. Herlihy advises anyone who has experienced reflux on a frequent basis over a period of five years or more, especially men age 50 and older, to consider undergoing a diagnostic upper endoscopy. This includes people whose reflux symptoms are being controlled by medication.
During this procedure, a thin, flexible videoendoscope is inserted into the esophagus while the patient is under moderate sedation so that the esophageal tissue can be examined.
New, Non-surgical Treatment
If Barrett’s Esophagus with a precancerous change called dysplasia is diagnosed, Glens Falls Hospital now offers a non-surgical procedure called radiofrequency ablation (RFA) to remove the diseased tissue before it advances to cancer.
With RFA, the doctor inserts a tiny balloon catheter into the esophagus. When inflated, the balloon applies a controlled level of heat, which removes precancerous tissue without damaging the underlying, healthy esophageal tissue.
“RFA has provided quite promising results since instituted,” Dr. Herlihy says. “It may literally be a life saver.”
For more information:
Glens Falls Hospital Gastrointestinal Center