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Radio Waves Burn Away Cancerous Cells In Esophagus

May 28, 2009

Doctors have reported success with the use of heat treatment in an effort to prevent esophageal cancer.

Dr. Nicholas Shaheen of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and colleagues studied 127 patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a heartburn-related ailment that can result in the development of cancerous cells in the esophagus.

Patients either received a heat treatment called radiofrequency ablation, or a fake treatment.

Among those who received the radio wave treatment, only 1.2 percent developed cancer during the following year, compared to 9.3 percent in the group that received the fake treatment.

One year later, precancerous cells disappeared in almost 78 percent of patients who were treated with radiofrequency ablation, compared to 2 percent of patients in the control group.

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The study was really designed to look to see if we could get rid of the Barrett’s, not to look and see if we could get rid of the cancer,” said Shaheen.

“The fact that we did find a cancer difference between the groups was a little surprising and unexpected. It certainly has us hopeful that this may be a way to decrease the chance of cancer in these patients,” he said.

Barrett’s patients who underwent the heat treatment reported some pain for about one week following the procedure. One in the heat group suffered gastrointestinal bleeding and five developed narrowing of the esophagus.

Radiofrequency ablation works by burning off precancerous cells in the esophagus and could be used as a precautionary treatment in place of surgery.

The procedure costs about $2,000, and is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, according to the Associated Press.

People with Barrett’s are 30 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer, which has a five-year survival rate of less than 15 percent. The illness is found in one in 62 Americans.

An estimated 16,470 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The cause of the ailment is unknown, although some medical professionals attribute it to drinking, smoking and obesity.

The study was funded by BARRX Medical of Sunnyvale, California, which makes the radiofrequency device.

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