Patients with early-stage cancer of the esophagus now have an option for removing the tumor and keeping their esophagus, while avoiding major surgery. The procedure combines the minimally invasive removal of the tumor through an endoscope with a procedure that burns away remaining cancer cells.
Most patients with treatable esophageal cancer undergo an operation that completely removes the esophagus (which lies below the throat and above the stomach) and reconnects the throat to the stomach. It is a major procedure that takes months to recover from and comes with side effects such as lifelong dietary restrictions.
A study from the Mayo Clinic showed that the overall 10-year survival rate was the same for patients with early stage esophageal cancer treated with traditional surgery and those treated with the newer procedure.
The new procedure is done on an outpatient basis, meaning patients can go home the same day. There are two stages; in the first, called endoscopic resection, the surgeon inserts a flexible endoscope (small tube) through the mouth to the esophagus and uses tiny tools to cut out the tumor. Then, in a second procedure known as radiofrequency ablation, the remaining tissue surrounding the tumor is burned away uses radiofrequency energy.
Patients are often able to eat regular meals within just a few days. And while they have some discomfort as they heal, it is not the same as would be associated with major surgery. And, there are many fewer complications and no long-term restrictions.
Candidates for this new treatment include patients with early-stage cancer that has not spread. Cases of esophageal cancer have increased in recent years, with many related to Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that results from gastrointestinal acid reflux disease (GERD). Barrett’s esophagus is also treated at Albany Med with radiofrequency ablation.