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New Approach to Treating Precancerous Esophagus Condition

The use of concentrated radio waves appears to be a safe and effective way to "burn" away abnormal cell growth in the esophagus that can be a precursor of cancer .

The new procedure is being tested in patients with Barrett's esophagus, a condition associated with the continued reflux of stomach acids into the lower esophagus that can damage its lining over time. While this condition is relatively common, a small percentage of patients will go on to develop abnormal cell growth known as dysplasia, a condition that can lead to esophageal cancer.

Gastroenterologists at Duke University Medical Center found that delivering concentrated radio waves through a catheter inserted down the esophagus can effectively treat the dysplasia with fewer side effects than current treatment methods. After the treatment, known as radiofrequency ablation, the treated cells die, slough off and are replaced within four to six weeks by new, healthier cells.

In a review of the first 12 patients treated with radiofrequency ablation at Duke, gastroenterologist Darren Pavey, M.B.B.S., found that three months after treatment, 89 percent of patients had more normal-looking esophageal tissue when viewed with an endoscope inserted down the esophagus. When samples of the new cells were analyzed in the laboratory, half of the patients were shown to have healthier tissues.

Pavey presented the results of the analysis on Tuesday, May 22, at the annual Digestive Disease Week conference in Washington, D.C. His analysis was supported by Duke's Division of Gastroenterology.

"In the procedure, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes, we insert a catheter down the esophagus and superficially burn the layer of cells that are abnormal," Pavey said. "The procedure is performed on patients as an outpatient procedure under conscious sedation, much as during a colonoscopy. The patients find that they have little or no discomfort following the procedure
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