New test can help with early screening for esophageal cancer

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, May 9, 2024
New test can help detect esophageal cancer
Chronic heartburn may be an early sign of esophageal cancer and a new test can help you know for sure.

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Many people experience occasional acid reflux.

But if you have it all the time, it could lead to a very serious condition and in some cases, cancer.

Now, there's a new screening test - the first and only of its kind - to detect precancerous issues.

"I started with heartburn," said 68-year old Ignacio Perez.

For the past two years, the Long Beach resident had occasional bouts of acid reflux.

"Hot food or very spicy food, especially when I bend over."

Chronic heartburn can lead to the development of pre-cancerous cells called Barrett's esophagus.

"Barrett's is when the esophagus cells are being replaced with stomach cells in response to acid exposure," said Dr. Seper Dezfoli, a gastroenterologist in Long Beach.

Dezfoli says you don't want cells changing on their own.

Perez' symptoms didn't warrant an endoscopy. So he recommended a simpler way to screen for abnormal cells. It's called Esoguard.

"This has a definite role for patients who have risk, but don't necessarily need an endoscopy," he said.

The miniature capsule is the size of a multivitamin. It's easy to swallow and the whole test takes about one minute.

The textured balloon opens up and gathers cells. Perez said swallowing the balloon and wire was easy.

"I felt it, but nothing was wrong. I was comfortable," he said.

The sample is sent to a lab.

Twenty-two thousand Americans are diagnosed with esophageal cancer every year. Dezfoli said 90% of them were never tested for Barrett's esophagus.

"That shows us that we've been significantly, dramatically under screening and under diagnosing Barrett's. It's a completely preventable cancer," he said.

Perez' test results were positive. Dezfoli said this was a life-saving find.

"You put them on medications, you do endoscopies, and you can prevent the cells from progressing," he said.

Risk factors include being a white male, being 50 or older, having a history of smoking or esophageal cancer in your family and long term acid reflux. Doctors say having three of these factors means you should get screened.

Perez said he's glad he knows.

"When you eat something hot or spicy and you feel heartburn: Don't wait," he said.