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.