Getting Ahead of Heartburn

Treating Barret's esophagus caused by acid reflux can reduce risk of esophageal cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Heartburn can damage a person's esophagus. In some people, the damage can be so bad that it leads to cancer.  Experts have put out new guidelines for treating the damage caused by heartburn and lowering the risk of cancer.

Heartburn, or acid reflux, can lead to Barrett's esophagus - a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by acids from the stomach. Barrett's esophagus increases patients' risk of esophageal cancer.

For this reason, experts are saying treating Barrett's esophagus can help protect people from cancer.

"Treat your heartburn now and reduce the risk of cancer."

The guidelines put out by the American Gastroenterological Association recommend treating Barrett's esophagus using radiofrequency ablation - a way to burn away cells that may lead to cancer.

In the United States, esophageal cancer is becoming more and more common without much improvement in rates of survival, says Srinadh Komanduri, M.D., a gastroenterologist from Northwestern Medicine.

While most people with Barrett's esophagus will not get cancer, Komandari adds, the risk is still there. As such, treating the condition early with radiofrequency ablation will lower a patient's risk of cancer.

According to Komanduri, the treatment effectively cures Barrett's lymphoma in most patients, reduces the amount of surgeries needed for the disease, and reduces the risk of esophageal cancer.

In Depth

  • Radiofrequency ablation involves sticking a tube down a patient's esophagus to reach the affected area. Past studies have shown that the treatment removes abnormal cells and gets rid of Barrett's esophagus in 90 to 100 percent of all patients.
  • Radiofrequency ablation treatment is recommended for patients with low to high amounts of precancerous cells, but the new guidelines also say that it could be a useful option for high-risk patients without precancerous cells. Talk with your doctor to see if you are a candidate for this treatment.
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 20, 2011
Last Updated:
April 22, 2011