Advanced Treatment for Barrett's Esophagus

CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital is the first hospital in the Southwest Louisiana Region to offer an advanced treatment for patients suffering from Barrett's Esophagus, a pre-malignant condition of the esophagus resulting from chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.  This procedure is the new gold-standard of care for patients with this disorder, thereby preventing the onset of esophageal cancer.

Physicians at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital are now using a special ablation catheter called the Barrx HALO System to remove layers of diseased tissue in the esophagus.  The HALO System removes abnormal cells from the surface of the esophagus, without causing injury to the normal, healthy underlying tissues.  The procedure lasts approximately 15 minutes and is performed without incisions using conscious sedation in an outpatient setting.

Barrett's esophagus affects about 3 million U.S. adults and is related to the chronic injury to the esophagus from GERD.  The condition results from reoccurring exposure of the esophagus to the gastric contents of the stomach.  With prolonged acid exposure, normal cells can undergo a genetic change and transform into taller columnar cells.  This disorder predisposes the patient to the development of esophagus cancer, which has demonstrated the fastest rise in new cases per year of all human cancers.

"Until now, the patient with advanced stages of Barrett's esophagus would receive an esophagectomy (surgical removal of the esophagus) or various endoscopic therapies, which are often associated with safety risks," says local Gastroenterologist Stephen Keith, M.D., who performed the first procedure of this kind in Southwest Louisiana.  He performed the procedure on July 13 at CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital.  "We are now not only able to safely and completely remove the diseased esophageal tissue, but we can also eliminate all the genetic abnormalities associated with developing esophageal cancer in the future."

Studies show that Barrett's is the precursor to esophageal cancer.  This type of cancer is often incurable as the disease is frequently discovered at a last stage.  "For a patient with Barrett's, the annual risk of developing cancer is similar to the risk of developing colon cancer for a patient with a colon polyp," Dr. Keith adds.  "Although unlike a colon polyp, which is removed immediately upon diagnosis, the standard treatment for Barrett's disease is a protocol of 'watchful waiting.'

Patients with Barrett's visit their doctor at scheduled intervals ranging from every three months to three years for an upper endoscopy and a biopsy of the affected part of their esophagus.  The physician inspects the lining of the patient's esophagus and collects tissue samples to evaluate the status or progression of the disease.

"Data shows that treating early cancerous changes impacts long-term healthcare costs and also improves the quality of life for patients living with uncertainty and fear," says Dr. Keith.  "Removing Barrett's at an earlier stage-before it advances-may have a high likelihood of preventing progression to cancer."