New Treatment at West Chester Hospital Prevents Esophageal Cancer

West Chester, Ohio – An outpatient treatment that destroys pre-cancerous tissue in the lining of the esophagus is now available at West Chester Hospital.

The procedure, endoscopic radiofrequency ablation therapy, was recently featured in the New England Journal of Medicine as a highly effective treatment for complete eradication of Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that affects one to two million adults in the United States each year.

According to Nathan Schmulewitz, MD, medical director of gastroenterology at West Chester Hospital, Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the esophagus is chronically exposed to gastric contents of the stomach caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, acid-reflux or heartburn.  With prolonged acid exposure, normal cells in the esophagus can undergo a genetic change that can lead to cancer.

Individuals with the Barrett’s esophagus condition are 40 to 130 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those without the condition. Esophageal cancer is presently the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States.

“The primary purpose of the ablation procedure is to safely eliminate the abnormal lining of the esophagus,” says Dr. Schmulewitz. “The tissue then regenerates and normal tissue grows back. This dramatically reduces, and typically eliminates the chances of cancer developing.” The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting, without incisions, and takes less than 30 minutes on average.

For a person with Barrett’s esophagus, Dr. Schmulewitz says the risk of developing esophageal cancer is similar to the risk of developing colon cancer for patients who have a colon polyp. “Not treating the Barrett’s esophagus condition poses an increased risk for the patient,” says Dr. Schmulewitz.

Esophageal cancer is often incurable because the disease is frequently discovered in the advanced stages. Esophageal cancer has a five-year patient survival rate of just 16 percent.

“It usually starts with GERD, which can cause Barrett’s disease, which can lead to esophageal cancer,” says Dr. Schmulewitz. “That’s why it’s important to seek medical treatment for symptoms of GERD, the most common being heartburn.”

“We are very pleased to offer this important treatment option to the members of our community,” states West Chester Hospital President and CEO, Kevin Joseph, MD.  “The radiofrequency ablation technique is a noninvasive procedure that can greatly reduce a patient’s risk for developing esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, there are many who continue to address GERD or routine heartburn using over-the-counter medications, without understanding that they are at greater risk for developing a very serious medical condition,” stated Joseph. “This new treatment option will undoubtedly save lives.”

For more information regarding Barrett’s esophagus or the radiofrequency ablation procedure offered at West Chester Hospital, please call 513-298-DOCS (3627).

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