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Deterioration of the esophagus due to acid reflux

Roseville, Calif, -ย– Think that it’s a stretch for acid reflux to lead to cancer? Think again.

Many people think acid reflux is just a nuisance, but it can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, which is a deterioration of the esophagus lining due to continuous backwash of stomach acid. The scary thing is people with Barrett’s esophagus are 30 to125 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than the general population. Even more sobering is that the rate of esophageal cancer has risen about six-fold in the U.S. since the 1970s. It is rising faster than breast cancer, prostate cancer or melanoma.

Gastroenterologist Ronald Hsu, M.D., FACG, who’s affiliated with Sutter Roseville Medical Center, is one of the few specialists in the region to use radiofrequency ablation (RFA) on Barrett’s esophagus. RFA uses an electrode mounted on a balloon device to deliver heat energy to the diseased lining of the esophagus.

While a patient is sedated, a device is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus and used to deliver a controlled level of energy to remove a thin layer of diseased tissue. Less than one second of energy removes tissue to a depth of about one millimeter. The ability to provide a controlled amount of heat to diseased tissue is one mechanism by which this therapy has a lower rate of complications than other forms of ablation therapy.

RFA against Barrett’s esophahgus

‘This is one way that we are able to push toward prevention of esophageal cancer,’ said Dr. Hsu.

A number of studies have demonstrated that RFA safely results in a high rate of complete eradication of Barrett’s esophagus, as well as reduces progression of the disease to high-grade dysplasia and cancer. RFA for Barrett’s esophagus has been used in more than 60,000 cases and the devices are cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Citrus Heights resident Joseph Fiffick will undergo the RFA for his Barrett’s esophagus in May. The 73-year-old has decided to be proactive and undergo the procedure instead of taking the wait-and-see approach since consulting with Dr. Hsu. After watching his own wife of 43 years fight cancer four timesย– and ultimately succumb to the disease a few years ago ย– Fiffick said he ‘will not go through the hell she went through.’

Fiffick was originally diagnosed with acid reflux disease more than 10 years ago, which he managed with over-the-counter medication. Years later during a routine check-up with his primary care physician it was discovered Fiffick was low on iron. Additional tests lead his primary care physician to refer Fiffick to Dr. Hsu, who performed upper endoscopy that confirmed his diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus with dysplasia.

Despite the diagnosis, Fiffick is optimistic about the procedure and his future. ‘I have a saying: ย‘It’s like playing poker with God. You deal with the hand He gives you. That”s the one you play. You may not like it, but you do your best.”

Sutter Roseville Medical Center is affiliated with Sutter Health, a not-for-profit, community based health system located throughout Northern California.

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