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Esophageal cancer on rise in Borderland

Updated: Tuesday, July 23 2013, 11:03 PM MDT
Esophageal cancer on rise in Borderland story image

By: Stephanie Guadian
EL PASO, Texas -- Jean Yager's father died of cancer. Her sister has cancer. So, you can imagine her fear when she discovered her husband, John, had been diagnosed with a precancerous lesion on his esophagus. The couple put on a brave face the day of his operation at the University Medical Center of El Paso.

Until recently, finding a precancerous lesion on the esophagus meant removing the organ -- and moving the stomach up. Most patients didn't live long after the procedure. Dr. Mohamed Othman is the director of endoscopy at UMC. He said the trouble for many people begins with an unhealthy diet, obesity and untreated heartburn. "The esophagus starts to develop a new layer. It almost looks like the layer of the intestine. This happens so it can cope with acid reflux all the time", said Othman.

But this new layer may lead to cancer of the esophagus. And until recently, there wasn't anyone in the Borderland doing advanced endoscopy. Othman is filling that gap and treating patients with a new procedure. It allows patients to keep their esophagus.

"You can just peel off the layers of the cancer-- if the cancer if not that deep, early cancer or precancerous lesion. And make sure you leave healthy tissue. That healthy tissue will grow above it over after that", said Othman.

"I really didn't believe it was going to be that simple. That they would go in and take it out and it would be gone. Without any incisions at all," said Jean Yager. But that's exactly what Dr. Othman is able to do for his patients. John had a biopsy after his surgery -- and is now cancer free. "We were only here for about three hours. We stopped and had breakfast on the way home. Now you beat that one," said John Yager.

If you are experiencing heartburn on a regular basis, Othman recommends getting an endoscopy of the esophagus. Those over the age of 50 have a greater risk of developing cancer of the esophagus. Other symptoms are difficulty swallowing, weight loss without trying, chest pain, pressure or burning, fatigue and frequent choking while eating.

Esophageal cancer on rise in Borderland
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