For several years, Frank Rose had acid reflux. The acid in his stomach backed up into the esophagus and eroded the lining. It progressed to a condition called Barrett's Esophagus. Last fall, it got worse.
"It was cancerous," Rose said.
Rose did not like his options.
"One of the options was an operation. He told me, 'I doubt that you'll survive it,'" he said.
The vast majority of patients with Barrett's Esophagus will not go on to develop cancer, but a few will. It used to mean the removal of the entire esophagus, but now there is a new option.
Rose went to UNC Hosptials for Photo Dynamic Therapy (PDT). First, an IV medication makes the body sensitive to a certain red wavelength of light.
"Immediately when you take and walk out of that hospital, you have to wear gloves. Be totally covered up as much as possible," said UNC gastroenterologist Dr. Nicholas Shaheen.
The problem is that patients risk the chance of severe sunburn within minutes. The procedure is two days later.
"We go inside of you and we shine a laser light of that wavelength on the tissue," Shaheen said.
The light, under Shaheen's hand, will not hurt unless you have had the special IV medication. The sensitivity goes away after two months. In the procedure, a clear balloon goes down to the cancerous area. Inside, a laser fiber emits a burst of light.
"That molecule, which is in the tissue, reacts with that light and essentially causes the cell to explode and die," Shaheen said.
Over time, the esophageal lining should return to normal. It worked for Rose.
"They told me I had no cancer or sign of cancer. You can't beat that. That's great news," he said.
If you have chronic acid reflux, it is a good idea to have regular endoscopic exams to make sure the condition does not get worse.
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