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Advocate Christ Medical Center news

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Quick Outpatient Procedure Proving Effective in Treating Disease that Can Lead to Esophageal Cancer

Your Heartburn May Be More Than Just an Annoyance

Oak Lawn, Ill. – What may seem like simple heartburn could eventually prove life-threatening if left untreated.

That’s why physicians at Advocate Christ Medical Center are now offering a relatively quick outpatient procedure that applies radiofrequency energy to the lining of the esophagus to destroy pre-cancerous cells caused by chronic and severe heartburn.

The procedure, endoscopic radiofrequency ablation therapy, is proving to be a highly effective treatment for Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that affects as many as two million adults annually.

Barrett’s disease can develop when the esophagus is chronically exposed to the contents of the stomach.  This exposure to stomach acid is caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD and sometimes referred to as “heartburn.”

GERD occurs when the ring of muscle that is supposed to keep food and acids inside the stomach fails to function properly and allows the stomach contents to back up into the esophagus.  Over time, frequent bouts of heartburn can prompt normal cells in the esophagus to undergo a change that makes them vulnerable to turning malignant, said Brian Blumenstein, MD, gastroenterologist at Christ Medical Center.

Individuals with Barrett’s esophagus have a 40 times to 130 times higher incidence of esophageal cancer than the general population.  Esophageal cancer is currently the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States.

Endoscopic radiofrequency ablation therapy treats the abnormal esophageal tissue in Barrett’s disease by bombarding it with rapid bursts of energy that strip away a very thin layer of the diseased tissue.  To deliver this energy, an ablation catheter is positioned on the abnormal tissue in the esophagus.  The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting, without incisions, and generally takes 40 minutes or less to complete.

“The main intent of this procedure is to ablate, or remove, the abnormal lining in the esophagus,” said Christ Medical Center gastroenterologist, Rogelio Silva, MD. “The tissue then regenerates and normal tissue grows back, markedly reducing the chances of cancer developing.”

For a person with Barrett’s disease, the risk of developing esophageal cancer is similar to the risk of developing colon cancer in patients with a colon polyp.  However, unlike a colon polyp that can be found and removed immediately during a colonoscopy, the standard treatment for Barrett’s disease had been “watchful waiting” to monitor the progression of the disease, Dr. Silva said.

With the availability of advanced technology, physicians now can deliver uniform and controlled ablative therapy that destroys the abnormal cells present in Barrett’s disease and allows for the regrowing of normal cells without injuring underlying healthy tissue in the esophagus, Dr. Silva explained.

Esophageal cancer is often incurable because the disease is frequently discovered in the advanced stages, Dr. Blumenstein said.  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, in turn, leads to esophageal cancer,” Dr. Blumenstein said.  “That’s why it is important to seek medical treatment for symptoms of GERD, the most common of which is heartburn.”

More information about the treatment of Barrett’s disease is available from the Christ Medical Center gastroenterology department at 708.684.5680. 

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About Advocate Christ Medical Center
Advocate Christ Medical Center is part of Advocate Health Care, which is one of the nation’s leading health care networks. A not-for-profit, 694-bed, premier teaching institution with more than 1,000 affiliated physicians, Christ Medical Center is a leader in health care and one of the major referral hospitals in the Midwest in a number of specialties, including cardiovascular services, heart and kidney transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, orthopedics and women’s health. The hospital also has one of the busiest Level I trauma centers in Illinois providing emergency care for more than 90,000 patient visits annually and is a leader in breakthrough technologies, including eICU® (electronic intensive care unit) monitoring, robotic da Vinci Surgery System® and CyberKnife® Radiosurgery.  In both 2012 and 2013, the medical center was named to the Truven Health 100 Top Hospitals®, while U.S. News & World Report ranked the medical center among the nation’s leading providers for cardiology and heart surgery and for geriatric medicine and ranked it fourth overall among hospitals in the state of Illinois. The hospital is also recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as a Magnet Center. Magnet status represents the highest honor in the nursing profession. To obtain more information or to visit our newsroom, log on to:


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