Health Team

Surgery for esophageal cancer gets less painful

Posted March 5, 2010 2:05 p.m. EST
Updated March 5, 2010 6:28 p.m. EST

— Esophageal cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in the country, with 16,000 cases diagnosed annually.

Standard surgery for it is painful and invasive, but a new treatment is helping patients recover faster.

Bruce Tyerman and his wife Marsha have undergone a battle to defeat his esophageal cancer.

The 72-year-old grandfather had suffered acid reflux for five decades, but there were no signs that he had cancer. "I have had no symptoms – none," Bruce Tyerman said.

But he was anemic, and doctors were worried about hidden bleeding. An endoscopy revealed the worst: He had esophageal cancer.

"Millions of people have reflux. They are not going to get cancer, but they need to be aware. You shouldn't self-medicate" for acid reflux, said Dr. Harmik Soukiasian, with Cedar's Sanai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Traditional surgery for esophageal cancer involves making large incisions and breaking the breast bone.

The new procedure, on the other hand, uses high-definition cameras and smaller punctures. The cancer is removed through a small incision, and part of the stomach is reshaped into a new esophagus.

The new surgery takes around five hours. That's about the same amount of time as the standard surgery that has been around for 50 years and is still used in most hospitals.

Doctors at the few medical centers performing the new surgery, however, are finding that it results in much less pain and faster recovery.

A week after his surgery, Bruce Tyerman went home – cancer-free.

"It's been faster than expected, and to see him walk on the very first day was unexpected," Marsha Tyerman said.