Barrett's esophagus can result from ongoing heartburn, which allows a constant splashing of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Left untreated, the condition can progress to esophagus cancer. Now, a new method, called cryoablation therapy, is available to freeze damaged cells in the esophagus, preventing them from turning cancerous.
Gastroenterologists at the University of Southwestern Medical Center, and a few other sites around the country, are using a special catheter and liquid nitrogen to freeze the damaged tissue in the superficial lining of the esophagus. The treated tissue eventually falls off, allowing normal cells to grow and replace the damaged cells in about six to eight weeks. This is the same technology that has been in place and used by dermatologists for years to treat skin irregularities.
Using this method of treatment for Barrett's has recently been approved by the FDA. Prior to this approval, typical treatment for Barrett's may have included scraping the damaged esophageal lining away, a procedure that takes hours and can have side effects such as bleeding or narrowing of the esophagus.
Cryoablation therapy takes about 30 - 40 minutes and requires sedation. After the procedure, patients can eat immediately and can take their anti-reflux medications. The therapy may be performed every four to six weeks until the entire abnormal lining is replaced by normal esophageal lining. The number of treatments an individual will need will depend on the extent of the abnormal tissue in the esophagus.
As with any medical intervention there can be side effects. However, early results from studies show the new therapy may be particularly attractive for patients who may have other complications or medical issues that make the traditional treatment too risky.
Read what expert Dr.Todd Eisner says about treating Barrett's Esophagus in this Q&A section.
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