Heat Therapy May Help Prevent Esophageal Cancer

Barrett's esophagus patients benefit from destruction of abnormal cells, study shows

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WEDNESDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) -- Radiofrequency ablation is an effective treatment for precancerous Barrett's esophagus, researchers have found.

In people with Barrett's esophagus, repeated acid reflux causes cells that line the esophagus to be replaced by cells similar to those found in the intestine, according to background information provided in a news release. A small number of people with Barrett's esophagus develop a deadly form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The new study included 127 people randomly selected to receive either radiofrequency ablation (RFA) -- which uses heat to destroy abnormal cells -- or a "sham" version of the procedure, to assess the effect on dysplasia, a more advanced stage of Barrett's esophagus in which the abnormal cells acquire precancerous traits.

Among patients with low-grade dysplasia, 90.5 percent of those who received RFA were dysplasia-free 12 months after treatment, compared with 22.7 percent of those in the sham therapy group. Of those with high-grade dysplasia, 81 percent had complete eradication of abnormal cells, compared with 19 percent of those in the sham treatment group, the researchers found.

Overall, 77.4 percent of patients treated with RFA had complete eradication of abnormal cells, compared with 2.3 percent of the sham treatment group. The study also found that 3.6 percent of those in the RFA group and 16.3 percent of those in the sham group had progression towards disease, while 1.2 percent of RFA patients and 9.3 percent of sham patients developed esophageal adenocarcinoma.

"These results show there is a substantial difference between treatment with radiofrequency ablation and a placebo or 'sham' treatment. It's a strongly positive finding," principal investigator Dr. Nicholas Shaheen, director of the Center for Esophageal Diseases and Swallowing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in the news release.

The study, published in the May 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, received funding from the company that makes the radiofrequency ablation unit used in the study.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about Barrett's esophagus.

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