PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A lot of people get heartburn, but for some, it gets worse with time.

Now, local doctors might be close to a revolutionary new treatment.

“I’ve always had heartburn,” says Jay Penvose.

The burning he has been feeling was a symptom of reflux and Barrett’s esophagus.

“It seems like more and more last couple years I was taking chewable antacids, liquids, and not really noticing how bad it had become,” Penvose said.

Normally, people with this get scoped and monitored with biopsies every few years. But doctors want to see if anything else can be done.

“Instead of just watching it happen, is there something we can do to change the course of the disease?” says Dr. Blair Jobe, a surgeon at Canonsburg General Hospital.

Barrett’s esophagus is when the cells lining the bottom end of the swallowing tube get damaged by stomach acid. This causes the cells to change, and this is a set up for cancer. People with reflux disease have a greater risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.

To take care of damaged cells, Penvose entered a clinical trial to see if cryotherapy, or freezing, will get rid of the unwanted cells, with the ones that grow back being healthier.

“At this point, I’d already gone through an endoscope, so it wasn’t threatening,” Penvose said.

In this outpatient procedure, a balloon is inserted through an endoscope. A squirt gun inside the balloon sprays an aerosol of a refrigerant liquid to form an ice ball. And this freezes the nearby tissue.

“So we do a six-second, an eight-second, and a 10-second freezing time,” says Dr. Jobe.

“The freezing sounded better to me,” says Jay. “There was just something a little softer sounding about the cryo approach.”

Also, no incisions are needed, and it can all be done with existing instruments.

As for potential risks? Freezing too much could create a hole or scarring, making it hard to get food down.

Because it’s research, the device company is covering the cost for patients in this multi-center trial. Doctors just need a handful of patients to show that this could work.

The possibility remains that it may not.

“I think I have options,” says Jay, “I’m still on medications through this process.”

Jay hopes the procedure will let him streamline this and turn up the heat.

“At some point, getting off my medication, and maybe eating some red sauce that I don’t have to fear,” Penvose said.


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Dr. Maria Simbra