An outpatient treatment that destroys pre-cancerous tissue in the lining of the esophagus has been introduced in West Michigan by Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital.

The procedure, endoscopic radio frequency ablation therapy using the Halo System, was recently featured in the New England Journal of Medicine as a highly effective treatment for complete eradication of Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that affects one to two million adults in the United States each year.

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According to Randal Meisner, MD, an MMPC gastroenterologist who is trained in the ablation therapy, Barrett’s disease occurs when the esophagus is chronically exposed to gastric contents of the stomach caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD.  With prolonged acid exposure, normal cells in the esophagus can undergo a genetic change and are then vulnerable to further changes that can lead to cancer.

Individuals with Barrett’s esophagus have a 40 to 130 times higher incidence of developing esophageal cancer than those without the condition. Esophageal is presently the fastest growing form of cancer in the United States.

“The main purpose of the ablation procedure is to ablate, or remove the abnormal lining of the esophageal,” says Meisner. “The tissue then regenerates and normal tissue grows back. This eliminates or markedly reduces the chances of cancer developing. Data from studies shows that the treatment is highly effective. In fact, it looks very promising.”

During the procedure, an ablation catheter is positioned on the abnormal esophageal tissue. The doctor then delivers a rapid burst of ablative energy which removes a very thin layer of the diseased esophagus. The procedure is performed in an outpatient setting, without incisions, and takes less than 30 minutes on average.

For a person with Barrett’s disease, the risk of developing esophageal cancer is similar to the risk of developing colon cancer for patients who have a colon polyp. However, unlike a colon polyp, which is removed immediately upon diagnosis through a colonoscopy, prior to the availability of the Halo System, the standard treatment for Barrett’s disease was “watchful waiting” or surveillance to monitor the progression of the disease.

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“Previously we could use ablation therapy to remove or destroy pre-cancerous tissue, but the technology had limitations and wasn’t widely used,” said Meisner. “This new system provides uniform ablative therapy, which not only removes the abnormal cells but also allows for regrowth of normal cells. It’s also easier to effectively treat patients using the Halo System, without injuring healthy underlying tissue.”

According to Meisner, esophageal cancer is often uncurable because the disease is frequently discovered in the advanced stages. Esophageal cancer has a five-year patient survival rate of just 16 percent.

“It usually starts with GERD, which can cause Barrett’s disease, which can lead to esophageal cancer,” Meisner said. “That’s why it’s important to seek medical treatment for symptoms of GERD, the most common being heartburn.”

The HALO System was developed by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Barrx Medical Inc. The company develops treatments for Barrett’s esophagus as well as other technologies to treat various pre-cancerous conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, a collection of eight hospitals and more than 140 service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group, MMPC and West Michigan Heart, physician groups totaling more than 400 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with nearly 580,000 members. Spectrum Health has 16,000 employees, 1,500 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers.

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