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New Therapy Freezes Out Esophageal Cancers

Cryoablation attractive option for older patients with other medical issues, team says

FRIDAY, Aug. 8 (HealthDay News) -- A new method of freezing damaged cells in the esophagus to prevent them from turning cancerous is being used by gastroenterologists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

A condition called Barrett's esophagus can result from ongoing heartburn, in which stomach acid constantly splashes into the esophagus. Untreated, this can become Barrett's with dysplasia, in which cells start to transform.

"Due to damage from chronic stomach acid, they are people who have a higher risk of developing esophagus cancer. The goal of this therapy is to literally freeze the damage in its tracks and stop it before it turns to cancer," Dr. Jayaprakash Sreenarasimhaiah, an assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of digestive and liver diseases, said in a UT Southwestern news release.

In this U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment, a special catheter is used to spray liquid nitrogen on the damaged tissue to freeze the lining of the esophagus. The treated tissue falls away, allowing normal cells to grow and replace the damaged cells in about six to eight weeks.

Patients are sedated for the cryoablation therapy, which takes about 30 to 40 minutes.

Typical treatment for Barrett's esophagus with dysplasia has included mucosal resection, in which the damaged lining is scraped away. This procedure can take hours and cause side effects such as bleeding or narrowing of the esophagus. In some cases, patients have surgery to remove the damaged sections of the esophagus. However, some patients are too sick or elderly for surgery while others want another option.

"This is a disease we see in a lot of older patients with other illnesses, so the decision to send them to surgery requires careful consideration. Cryoablation therapy is particularly attractive for older patients who may have complications or other medical issues -- such as accompanying heart or lung diseases -- that make traditional surgeries for Barrett's with dysplasia too risky," Sreenarasimhaiah said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about Barrett's esophagus.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, news release, July 31, 2008

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