Barrett's Esophagus

As kids the five Sitarski brothers were your typical pack of boys...they played baseball, cowboys and indians, they were best friends…but, today the brothers are battling a potentially fatal condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus. “In 2004 my brother had some problems with his throat, he was totally healthy, never had any problems, physical every year, when to the doctor, was diagnosed stage four cancer, he died nine months later and it was caused from Barrett’s,” says John Sitarski. Since his brother’s death, John and his younger brother have also been diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition caused by chronic GERD, or reflux disease. “Due to chronic acid exposure from reflux, the cells that normally line the esophagus gradually transform into a type of lining which is more protective against acid irritation, so the lining instead of being a normal esophageal lining, it is like a stomach lining, the body is trying to protect itself against acid,” says Dr. Greg Haber of Lenox Hill Hospital. Since the cells lining the stomach are protected from contact with acid, their growth into the esophagus actually functions as a defense mechanism. It protects the normal tissue in the esophagus against further damage by GERD, but these tissue changes may be a forerunner of cancer.

“The real message is that if you have even mild heart burn or regurgitation, which has gone on for more than 5 years, or if it is new to you, and around the age of forty and it’s gone on for 2 years, I think that it’s very prudent to have an endoscope to have a look at that esophagus,” says Dr. Haber. If an endoscopy reveals a pre-cancerous condition, doctors can now destroy the bad tissue using heat and radiofrequency energy.

“We are able to put wires or electrodes on a balloon, and that goes into the esophagus and when we send radiofrequency energy through those wires, that creates a certain release of thermal energy or heat. What we do is heat up the tissue to a certain temperature where we get destruction just to the surface lining. We have to keep the burn barely superficial and by doing that we can get rid of those surface Barrett’s cells and then we get re-growth of a normal lining,” explains Dr. Haber.

 Last year, John’s diseased Barrett’s cells were eradicated thanks to this ablation therapy. “It is a miracle, I just hope it helps other people, and I hope people start to get checked,” says John. This ablation therapy also known as the halo system can take up to a half hour. Dr. Haber says that for most patients, treatment can be done in one session, but, there may be small areas like at the very bottom, where the esophagus joins the stomach, that may need a second go-around to ensure all the diseased cells were removed.


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