PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Cheryl Begg struggled her whole life with reflux, a condition where stomach acid flows back into her swallowing tube, or esophagus.
“I could no longer drink tomato juice or orange juice. I could not lie down at all without vomiting,” she describes. “I was up most of the night, and that affected my next day, how I was going to take care of my kids, or go to work if I was working.”
Reflux can change the cells at the base of the esophagus, something called Barrett’s. After years of watching and waiting, she got the dreaded news the cells were trending toward cancer.
“They called it low grade dysplasia,” she says. “I would just look at my children and think, oh, I have to be around to raise the kids.”
For advanced changes, a procedure called radio frequency ablation has been shown to help.
“A balloon that is 360 degrees, that burns the entire lining of the esophagus,” explains West Penn Hospital surgeon, Dr. Blair Jobe. “Sometimes it can be three or four, up to five tries.”
The question has been for mild changes, would the same procedure help?
In a multi-center study, 136 patients with Barrett’s esophagus with mild dysplasia got either the ablation through a scope or were watched with a scope down into the stomach over three years.
The doctors found the risk of progression from mild to severe, or even cancer, was cut by up to 25 percent. For the majority of patients, the pre-cancerous changes went away all together.
“Usually it resolves completely, and when you look at it with an endoscope, you couldn’t tell there was Barrett’s there before that,” says Dr. Jobe.
Such good news the trial was stopped early.
“The data safety monitoring board saw this and said, we have to stop this because the benefits are so clear,” Dr. Jobe adds.
“I’m not on any medications at all. And I had been for quite some time. I’m cured,” says Cheryl happily.