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Doctors now zap away esophagus cancer risk

A lower risk, less complicated procedure is helping cut down on the cancer risk for patients with Barrett's esophagus

Most people suffer from acid reflux at one time or another. But when it becomes a nagging, chronic condition, it can actually putyou at risk for cancer.

Now, doctors have a new way to treat this pre-cancerous condition.

When acid reflux leads to changes in the cells of the esophagus, it s a condition called Barrett s esophagus. New technology means some patients who once faced surgery to have their esophagus removed can keep it and lead a normal life.

Richard Hernandez, 61, of San Antonio suffered from chronic acid reflux. The chest pain and nasty taste made him uncomfortable every day.

I just couldn t lay down, Hernandez explained. If I ate after 7 o clock, I couldn t lay down until 10 or 11 o clock. And even then, I had to lay down on my back.

An endoscopy showed Hernandez had a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett s esophagus. The normally whitish cells of the lining had turned an unusual color, the result of injury from the reflux.

That pink tissue that we see, sort of salmon-colored mucosa we call that, is Barrett s esophagus, so that s the hallmark of this condition, said Dr. Alejandro Pruitt of Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio, 8214 Wurzbach.

Pruitt decided to try a new approach to heal Hernandez. It s called Halo Radiofrequency Ablation. With the patient under sedation, the doctor threads a balloon down the throat and inflates it against the sides. Small bursts of energy destroy the diseased tissue.

That burn injury that occurs is a controlled injury, Pruitt stated. And when the esophagus heals, it heals with normal tissue, thereby replacing the Barrett s esophagus with a completely normal esophagus.

Hernandez has avoided major surgery, but gotten rid of a real cancer risk. I m hoping to live a long life without any cancer in my esophagus and keep my esophagus for a long time, Hernandez said.

Halo radiofrequency ablation has revolutionized the way that we approach patients with this condition, Pruitt claimed.

The outpatient procedure takes about half an hour. Patients have to stay on soft foods for a few days, but otherwise healing is fairly quick and easy.

Pruitt is one of only a handful of physicians in San Antonio offering this. He s performed about 100 Halo procedures over the past 18 months.