News Release
  February 20, 2013

CONTACT:

Katie Delach

215-349-5964
katie.delach@uphs.upenn.edu

Perelman School of Medicine


This release is available online at
http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2013/02/barrett/

Penn Study Shows Long-Term Efficacy of Minimally Invasive Therapy for Patients with Barrett's Esophagus

All Damaged Cells Removed in up to 95 Percent of Cases

PHILADELPHIA — According to a new study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, patients with Barrett's esophagus and early or pre-cancerous cells have been shown to significantly benefit from minimally invasive therapy delivered through an endoscope – a medical instrument used to look inside an organ or cavity in the body. Until recently, patients with these conditions were treated by surgery to remove the whole esophagus. Study results show that endoscope-based therapies have a high success rate; all of the damaged cells were removed in up to 95 percent of cases, greatly reducing the chances of cancer progression. Additionally, in over two-thirds of cases, patients had no biological signs of the return of disease for years. The study appears in the February issue of GIE: Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth with the stomach. Barrett's esophagus, which can be a precursor to cancer of the esophagus, is a condition in which the cells of the lower esophagus become damaged, typically from persistent exposure to stomach acid. Barrett's esophagus affects over three million people in the United States. Men develop Barrett's esophagus twice as often as women.

“This study is one of only a few that focuses on the long-term effects of minimally invasive techniques for the treatment of Barrett’s esophagus,” said Gregory G. Ginsberg, MD, professor of Medicine and director of Endoscopic Services at Penn Medicine, and corresponding author on the study. “We examined patients from as far back as 1998 and had an average follow-up of nearly three years. This gives us a more complete measure of assessing the longer-term benefits of these types of intervention.”

Among the therapies evaluated in the new study were radiofrequency ablation and endoscopic resection. In radiofrequency ablation, a balloon or small paddle that transmits energy is attached to the endoscope to burn away a thin layer of the esophageal mucosa, removing the damaged cells. It is a half-hour outpatient procedure performed under mild sedation.

In an endoscopic resection, an endoscope is inserted down the throat to reach the esophagus. Its light and camera enable the doctor to see and navigate, and it has tools for removal of the affected tissue. Both procedures are far less invasive and less expensive than an esophagectomy, a major surgery that removes the esophagus in patients with advanced conditions.

Approximately 10 percent of patients with long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) will develop Barrett's esophagus. GERD is a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus, which often results in recurring heartburn and, less commonly, difficulty swallowing. A small percentage of patients with Barrett's esophagus will develop high grade dysplasia, a more serious condition. High grade dysplasia isn’t cancer, but it is the step before cancer. The risk of developing esophageal cancer from high grade dysplasia has been examined in several studies and ranges from 20 percent to 50 percent. Overall, patients with Barrett's esophagus have a less than 1 percent risk of developing esophageal cancer over their lifetimes. Esophageal cancer is especially invidious; it has a less than 15 percent five-year survival rate.

Results of the study also show that in as many as one-third of the cases, manifestations of the disease returned. “These findings of recurrence make it clear that Barrett’s esophagus patients should undergo life-long periodic endoscopic exams to watch for precancerous esophagus cells. If we find these cells, we can treat them via the endoscope to prevent esophageal cancer,” said Ginsberg.

Barrett’s esophagus is named after Norman Barrett (1903–1979), who described the condition in 1950.

Other study authors from Penn include Carlos Guarner-Argente, MD, PhD; Thomas Buoncristiano, Emma E. Furth, MD, and Gary W. Falk, MD, MSc.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 17 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $392 million awarded in the 2013 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; Chester County Hospital; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2013, Penn Medicine provided $814 million to benefit our community.