A recent news report detailed a new treatment for an early form of esophagus cancer called Barrett’s Esophagus. Esophageal cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in America. It is related to chronic acid reflux, a condition which causes stomach acid to leak through a sphincter that separates the stomach from the esophagus. This process damages the esophageal cells, which then become cancerous and potentially deadly.
The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It lies behind the trachea, which is our body’s breathing tube.
The esophagus is separated from the stomach by a tight circular muscle known as the esophageal sphincter. This sphincter’s purpose is to keep the acid made to dissolve our food in the stomach away from the delicate layers of the esophagus. Sometimes this sphincter becomes lax and allows stomach contents to enter the esophageal area. This causes the burning in the chest we know as heartburn. While many people suffer occasional heartburn, others have heartburn on a regular basis, and this regular exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid can affect the health of the cells in this area. When this happens, it is known as Barrett’s Esophagus.
Ten percent of people who suffer from chronic acid reflux also have Barrett’s Esophagus, and this predisposes them to having esophageal cancer. Cancers cause damage as they grow because they either take over or crowd out normal body tissue. When a cancer is found early, there is a much better chance of successful treatment and cure, but when it is found late and has spread, it can be deadly. Only 4% of people survive when esophagus cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes.
The reason that cancer can spread without us knowing is because changes inside our bodies are hard to detect. This is why it is so important to look for symptoms such as chronic acid reflux, which can point us toward those individuals who might have cancerous cells in their esophagus.
Traditional treatments for treating cancer’s irregular cells include
- radio-frequency ablation
- photodynamic therapy
- endoscopic surgical mucosal resection
- surgical removal of the esophagus (in certain advanced cases)
The new treatment detailed in the recent report involves putting a tube down the esophagus and then spraying a freezing solution on all of the irregular cells until they are dead.
These cells then fall away and the body rebuilds new healthy tissue in the esophagus where the previous cancerous and pre-cancerous cells had been. This procedure reminds me of my success in treating irregular cells and early skin cancers on the face with RESET for Sun Damage treatment, my laser skin resurfacing procedure. Both involve removing irregular cells and allowing the body to heal itself with new, healthy tissue.
As I’ve mentioned before, the body has amazing regenerative abilities. When I perform my RESET® for Sun Damage treatment, it removes almost all pre-cancers and some active cancers from the face. I first learned about the potential of this treatment from one of my patients, who I had helped a few years earlier with upper and lower lid surgery, including my laser festoon treatment. As you can see in the photos below, she healed well after the procedure.
Two years later, she returned because she was erupting in skin lesions all over her face. This was a result of taking a medication called Efudex, which targets early cancers on the face. She’d had these lesions almost everywhere on her face with the exception of the lower lid areas that had been treated with the RESET® procedure two years earlier. This area was lesion free and essentially the healthiest part of her face.
I performed the procedure on the rest of her face, with the very successful results you see here.
This was an important learning moment for me. While I knew that the procedure improved skin wrinkles and age spots, this case demonstrated that it was also improving the health and quality of the facial skin. It was like a RESET® button that had basically created new skin.
Most skin damage results from sun damage that occurs over the course of our lives. When the sun shines down on the earth, it is comprised of many different forms of light.
There is the visible light that allows us to see one another, and there are invisible rays called UV rays.
UV rays are responsible for the heat we feel when we are out in the sun. There are two types of UV rays that we need to know about: The first is UVA rays. The “A” can represent skin aging. These rays are present from sun up to sun down. Because they are a long wavelength light wave, they penetrate deep into the skin, where they fracture collagen and elastic fibers which allow the skin to sag and droop.The second type of UV ray we need to know about is the UVB rays. The “B” can represent skin burning. Their wavelength of light isn’t as long, and therefore doesn’t penetrate quite as deeply into the skin.
Both UVA and UVB rays create damage in the DNA of the outer layers of the skin. The UV rays actually bind together parts of our DNA and form something called Thymine Dimers which cause cells to become irregular and can lead to skin cancers.
In a similar way, when the acid from the stomach comes into contact with normal esophagus cells, it can cause them to become irregular and lead to esophagus cancers.
Since that early patient demonstrated the power of skin health that comes from my laser skin resurfacing treatment, I’ve been improving my clinical eye and laser technique. Now when I’m performing my RESET® for Sun Damage procedure, I’m able to see sun damage in the cells below the surface of the skin, and can then finely ablate the lesions layer by layer until they are fully removed.
Look at these two examples of patients who treated with the RESET® for Sun damage procedure. I was able to reverse years of past sun damage, allowing the skin to heal back in a smoother, tighter, and healthier way. The freezing technique used to treat Barrett’s Esophagus causes the irregular cells to fall away in a very similar way. Though the two situations are very different, they are similar in that the body rebuilds itself form the bottom up: the freezing technique heals the esophagus and my RESET® for Sun Damage technique heals the skin layers on the face.
One of the most interesting aspects of medicine is being able to see how innovations in treatment protocols in one area are paralleled and replicated in another. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to offer my procedure to help improve the appearance and health of my patients’ skin after it’s been damaged by the sun.