The People's Perspective on Medicine

New Treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus Reverses Cancer Risk

People with serious heartburn, also known as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, are often at higher risk for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. The cells lining the lower part of the esophagus become abnormal and physicians worry that they could progress to esophageal cancer. This type of cancer has become increasingly common in the past few decades.

Several years ago a study demonstrated that treating these precancerous cells with radio frequency ablation could reverse the process. In this procedure a gastroenterologist uses an endoscope to place an instrument in the lower esophagus. Radio waves are then used to heat the tissue. In the healing process the cells return to a normal state in most cases. (You can listen to our interview with the lead researcher,)

A new study published in JAMA included 136 patients randomly assigned to radiofrequency ablation or endoscopic surveillance. During the follow-up period, only 1.5 percent of the patients getting ablation ended up with abnormal cells or cancer. This compared to 26.5 percent of those in the control group. The results were so impressive that the study was stopped early. This study combined with earlier research will probably change the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus.

[JAMA, March 26, 2014]

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Would like to see more push from the medical profession & media abt diagnosing estophageal cancer especially during April, Esophageal Cancer Awareness month. I was diagnosed with EC Stage IIB in Jan 2013 after experiencing severe vomiting & weight loss. Luckly, after 28 radiation treatments, 5 sessions of chemo & Ivor-Lewis robotic surgery I am currently cancer free. Still weak & trying to regain the 75 pounds lost & neuropathy in hands & feet, but I’m alive. Lucky since so many who finally get properly diagnosed are in the later stages of this disease & don’t survive. Please, please don’t just grab a pill for repeated indigestion issues. Get to a doctor & get answers!

I completed this procedure two years ago. Just had my third six month checkup and there is no sign of Barrett’s. Next checkup in 12 months.

In answer to GA’s question: I (successfully) completed radiofrequency ablation treatments a few months ago, and all treatments were covered by my health insurance. I have been very pleased with the effectiveness of the treatments, which were very tolerable. I was happy to have first heard about RFA ablation for the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus on a People’s Pharmacy interview and was thus already well informed when the treatment was recommended for me.

I was just reading the information you provided and was also wondering about the same things as GA and DS. Sounds like a wonderful procedure. I would love to have this done to help my problem and maybe I could eat the foods that I can’t now!

I would like to hear more. What is the explanation or reasoning for doing this in the first place? Who paid for the study?

Sounds great, but will the procedure be covered by insurance? Not everyone has the money to take advantage of all the new research.

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