Burning Away Esophageal Cancer

It's the fastest growing cancer in the country and now doctors recommend it be treated more aggressively. Nearly 13,000 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer *this year, and it could be fueled by something as common as acid reflux. But, thanks to new guidelines doctors can zap away the damage– before the cancer can form. Robyn Haines has your Healthy Living. A normal day for Tom Geocaris consists of a lot of exercise. You can't tell by looking at him, but just a few years ago, tom's life went from normal– to near deadly. His acid reflux had developed into “Barrett’s Esophagus.” it's where the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. If left untreated the condition could turn into cancer. “About a 300 fold increase in the risk of cancer in the esophagus in people with Barrett's Esophagus.” In the past… Barrett's was often treated with surgery that included serious risks and side effects. This Stanford doctor used a newer and, less invasive approach– to burn off tom's pre-cancerous cells. During the half-hour “radio frequency ablation” procedure, this tool is inserted into the esophagus, and touches the Barrett’s tissue. Then the balloon is inflated and releases energy-which literally burns the Barrett’s away. The balloon is then deflated and removed with minimal complications or pain. Until now doctors took a “wait-and-see” approach with high-risk Barrett’s patients to see if cancer would develop-but new recommendations say these patients can't afford to wait and should be treated immediately. And while tom still has occasional heartburn, his Barrett’s is gone, he's cancer free, and he's back to his normal routine. After the procedure, most patients still have to take medication to control their acid reflux. Radio frequency ablation is covered by Medicare and some private health insurance plans.