New Treatment Uses Liquid Nitrogen to Prevent Esophageal Cancer Caused by Acid Reflux Disease
MAYWOOD, Ill. - Patricia Carlson of Mokena, Ill., can't remember ever feeling as optimistic about the future as she does today.
Having a family history of cancer and being a long-time sufferer of Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition largely caused by acid reflux disease, Carlson worried for years about developing esophageal cancer, the fastest-growing cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
"My reflux was so bad that I'd drink water and it wouldn't go down. It would hang up and it would come right back up within minutes," said Carlson about her condition in which acid from her stomach flows into her esophagus, dangerously altering its lining. "I was really afraid I was going to get esophageal cancer."
Carlson' new-found optimism stems from a revolutionary new treatment she underwent to treat her Barrett's at Loyola University Hospital in Maywood, Ill. The treatment, "cryospray ablation," uses super-cold liquid nitrogen to permanently zap pre-cancerous tissue in the esophagus, which the body then replaces with normal, healthy tissue.
"I'm really happy with it," said Carlson, whose Barrett's was more than 77 percent eliminated after an initial treatment. "It's given me a great sense of relief that something can actually be done that will be more permanent and complete than the other treatments."
Carlson's results are typical of those of other patients who have undergone the treatment at Loyola and at the handful of medical centers in the world that employ the new therapy, said Dr. Jack Leya, associate professor of medicine, department of gastroenterology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood.
"This is truly revolutionary. This is very impressive. One patient had more than 99 percent of his Barrett's gone after his initial treatment," Leya said. "I've never seen patients respond so quickly. The procedure is a painless treatment for Barrett's. I believe the future is here."
In this new minimally invasive treatment, Leya inserts a special catheter through a small, flexible tube called an endoscope and sprays liquid nitrogen that's cooled to minus 270 degrees Fahrenheit onto the pre-cancerous tissue in the esophagus. The tissue is frozen for a few seconds, allowed to thaw and then refrozen. In most cases, patients experience no pain or bleeding during treatment and face a much lower risk of perforation. The treated tissue eventually dies and sloughs off, allowing normal tissue to grow back in its place.
"I'm amazed at how our patients have responded to their initial treatments. They have had much better responses than I anticipated. Itâs amazing," Leya said. "I think that it is going to be extremely effective for patients who have not responded to other Barrett's treatments."
It takes an average of two to three sessions for all of the abnormal tissue to be destroyed with the new treatment. Depending on the patient's condition, sessions, which are repeated every six to eight weeks, last from 30 to 45 minutes and are performed on an outpatient basis. Patients are sedated during a session and are usually on their way back home about an hour after entering the recovery room.
"All of our patients have had great results. We would prefer to have these people treated with cryospray rather than having them going through a complex procedure called an esophagectomy, which can alter their quality of life," said Lynn Heicher, RN, MS, CGRN, CLNC, nurse manager of the gastroenterology lab at Loyola. "This treatment is well tolerated and was relatively simple for our nurses and Dr. Leya to learn."
Unlike other therapies to treat Barrett's, such as a technology that uses short bursts of intense heat to burn away abnormal tissue, patients treated at Loyola with cryospray ablation said they felt no pain following their procedures.
"With the heat, I had burning; it hurt for 10 days afterwards. It was just uncomfortable," said Angeline Johnson of Woodridge, Ill., whose Barrett's was more than 99 percent eliminated after her initial cryospray treatment. "With the cryospray, I could have gone out that day. It didn't feel like I had anything done. I didn't feel any discomfort at all."