If the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale has its way, esophageal cancer will have one less way of developing in humans.
Since January, doctors at Mayo have been performing a ground-breaking procedure known as radiofrequency ablation. The procedure uses an electrode balloon to remove a lining from the esophagus that has been proven to cause cancer.
The lining is referred to as "Barrett’s esophagus" and is caused by acid reflux, in which acid from the stomach splashes into the esophagus and erodes its lining. Esophageal cancer is the only known cancer that can result from acid reflux.
Dr. Virender Sharma, a gastroenterologist and director of Mayo’s esophageal clinic, said the new procedure is saving lives.
"Esophagus cancer is rising at, I would say, an epidemic rate. And if you want to control it, prevention is key," he said. "This procedure offers us hope to curing esophagus cancer by curing a precancerous condition."
Since the clinic began performing the procedure on a clinical basis in January, it has treated between 30 and 40 patients for Barrett’s esophagus. The clinic is the only facility in the Southwest to offer the procedure and one of less than 10 in the country with it, Sharma said.
Patients have come from as far away as Texas and Boston to undergo the procedure, which Sharma said takes between 30 and 40 minutes.
Pat Fallon, 62, of Tempe underwent two treatments last year for Barrett’s esophagus as a volunteer during a clinical trial of the procedure. He said the treatments he underwent for Barrett’s esophagus were quick, simple and involved minimal pain.
Fallon said he expects his Barrett’s esophagus to return one day because a hernia damaged his stomach and caused acid reflux.
Sharma said after patients undergo the new procedure, medication and good diet choices can help stop acid reflux and Barrett’s esophagus from redeveloping.