What every heartburn sufferer needs to know
Some things have an obvious connection. Smoking and lung cancer. High blood pressure and heart disease. But, do you know there's a connection between heartburn and another serious disease? It's called Barrett's esophagus, and it can increase your risk for developing esophageal cancer. That's why it's important to talk to your doctor about heartburn symptoms now, and not rely on that weekly pack of antacids for relief.
That burning sensation
"Heartburn is a common condition that causes a warm, uncomfortable feeling in your chest, that radiates to your neck and jaw," explains Virtua gastroenterologist, Jeffrey Kutscher, MD
. Normally, a muscular valve in the esophagus opens to allow food into the stomach. Then, food is broken down by strong acids. "Heartburn occurs when this valve opens too often or doesn't close tight enough. Stomach acids creep back into the esophagus, damaging it and causing heartburn," says Dr. Kutscher.
Virtua has the area's first Heartburn Center at Virtua Memorial Hospital. The center provides the most advanced technology available for diagnosing and treating heartburn and associated complications.
What is Barrett's esophagus
"Barrett's esophagus occurs from repeated exposure to stomach acids flowing back into the esophagus. The acid inflames esophageal cells, making them abnormal. These cells then start to resemble cells in your stomach and intestines," explains Dr. Kutscher.
Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed during an endoscopy, a painless procedure that involves inserting a lighted, flexible tube (endoscope) with a camera on its tip through the mouth and into the esophagus and stomach.
"A telltale sign of Barrett's esophagus is the change in the color of esophageal lining from its normal pink to a salmon color," notes Virtua otolaryngologist (or ear, nose and throat specialist), Stephen Gadomski, MD
. "During an endoscopy, a tissue sample is taken from the lining of the esophagus to diagnose Barrett's."
"Barrett's esophagus can develop into esophageal cancer," explains Dr. Kutscher. "While this is rare, regular screening exams may help detect esophageal cancer at an early and potentially curable stage."
Advanced care for esophageal cancer
A new procedure called endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) is being used at Virtua Memorial's Heartburn Center to "stage" or learn how far esophageal cancer has advanced. "It may prove to be more accurate than x-rays or upper endoscopies in determining how far esophageal cancer has spread into nearby tissue," notes Hugh Lasch, MD
, Virtua gastroenterologist who is one of the few doctors in South Jersey that performs this innovative procedure.
"Knowing the stage of the disease is extremely important in determining what treatment to recommend," says John Wilson, MD
, radiation oncologist with the Fox Chase Virtua Health Cancer program.
For patients who need more rigorous treatment, the Fox Chase Virtua Health Cancer Treatment Center has the latest technology that delivers the most targeted form of radiation therapy available. "Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells," says Dr. Wilson. "With new technology for head and neck cancers like esophageal cancer, we are able to target the tumor more efficiently and spare healthy tissue."
Surgical removal of cancerous tumors, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used together to treat esophageal cancer. Only you and your doctor can determine the best treatment.
The Fox Chase Virtua Health Cancer Program also participates in clinical trials to improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for esophageal cancer. "We are always looking to provide patients with the latest technology to give them the best possible outcomes," says Dr. Wilson.
For more information or to make an appointment, call 1-888-Virtua-3
Jeffrey Kutscher, MD
, a board-certified gastroenterologist, earned his medical degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He completed a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatic diseases at The New York Hospital Cornell Medical Center.
Stephen Gadomski, MD
, is a board-certified otolaryngologist. He earned his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He completed a residency in general surgery at Albert Einstein Medical Center, and another in otolaryngology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. Dr. Gadomski is a clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology at Thomas Jefferson University.
John Wilson, MD
, is a board-certified radiation oncologist. He earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Wilson then completed an internship at Frankford Hospital and a residency in radiation oncology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Wilson has written articles on various topics related to radiation oncology, which have appeared in publications such as the International Journal of Oncology
and the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics
Hugh Lasch, MD
, earned his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He completed a residency in internal medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC. Dr. Lasch also completed a fellowship in gastroenterology at the University of North Carolina Health Care at Chapel Hill. Board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Lasch has received numerous honors including the Schering Fellow's Grant for liver research and the Merck Senior Fellow Research Award from the American College of Gastroenterology.