Does Minimally Invasive Therapy Treat Barrett's Esophagus?

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PHILADELPHIA—According to a new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, patients with Barrett's esophagus and early or pre-cancerous cells have been shown to significantly benefit from minimally invasive therapy delivered through an endoscope.

Until recently, patients with these conditions were treated by surgery to remove the whole esophagus. Study results show that endoscope-based therapies have a high success rate; all of the damaged cells were removed in up to 95 percent of cases, greatly reducing the chances of cancer progression. Additionally, in over two-thirds of cases, patients had no biological signs of the return of disease for years. The study appears in the February issue of GIE: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth with the stomach. Barrett's esophagus, which can be a precursor to cancer of the esophagus, is a condition in which the cells of the lower esophagus become damaged, typically from persistent exposure to stomach acid. Barrett's esophagus affects over three million people in the United States. Men develop Barrett's esophagus twice as often as women.

“This study is one of only a few that focuses on the long-term effects of minimally invasive techniques for the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus," said Gregory Ginsberg, MD, professor of medicine and director of endoscopic services at Penn Medicine, and corresponding author on the study. “We examined patients from as far back as 1998 and had an average follow-up of nearly three years. This gives us a more complete measure of assessing the longer-term benefits of these types of intervention."

Among the therapies evaluated in the new study were radiofrequency ablation and endoscopic resection. In radiofrequency ablation, a balloon or small paddle that transmits energy is attached to the endoscope to burn away a thin layer of the esophageal mucosa, removing the damaged cells. It is a half-hour outpatient procedure performed under mild sedation.

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