Specialists freeze oesophagus cancer with new therapy

July 29th, 2008 - 4:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, July 29 (IANS) Gastroenterologists have developed a new approach to freeze damaged cancer cells in the abdominal oesophagus, preventing them from turning cancerous. Known as cryoablation therapy, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it helps Barrett’s oesophagus patients with dysplasia, which turns normal cells into potentially cancerous ones.

“Due to damage from chronic stomach acid, they are people who have a higher risk of developing oesophagus cancer,” said Jayaprakash Sreenarasimhaiah, assistant professor of internal medicine at University of Tennessee Southwestern.

“The goal of this therapy is to literally freeze the damage in its tracks and stop it before it turns to cancer.”

Gastroenterologists, using a special catheter, spray liquid nitrogen on the damaged tissue to freeze the superficial lining of the oesophagus, the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

The treated tissue eventually falls off, allowing normal cells to grow and replace the damaged cells in about six to eight weeks.

“Repeated treatments can actually help get rid of Barrett’s oesophagus with dysplasia and prevent the progression to cancer,” said Sreenarasimhaiah, a gastroenterologist who specialises in endoscopic technology.

The minimally invasive cryoablation therapy requires special training and equipment available in only a handful of centres in Texas and a few dozen nationally.

Barrett’s oesophagus can result from ongoing heartburn, which allows a constant splashing of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus. Untreated, it can become Barrett’s with dysplasia, in which cells start to transform.

Typical treatment includes endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), in which the damaged lining is scraped away, a procedure that takes hours and can have side effects such as bleeding or narrowing of the oesophagus.

Some patients, however, are too sick or elderly to be candidates for surgery. Others simply 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,” Sreenarasimhaiah said.

“Cryoablation therapy is particularly attractive for older patients and takes about 30 to 40 minutes and requires sedation. As with an endoscopy, a tube down the patient’s throat is used to insert a tiny camera and instruments. No incisions are required.”

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