Medical experts are always looking for new ways to make the diagnostic process simpler and more efficient, and we may soon be on the verge of a breakthrough when it comes to how we diagnose Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is often a precursor to esophageal cancer, so it’s imperative that we catch this condition before it progresses.
Most people end up getting diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus after their visit an endocrine surgeon when symptoms of the condition set in, like acid reflux, difficulty swallowing, changes in voice and frequent heartburn. This isn’t ideal, because oftentimes the condition is then out of its initial stage, making effective treatment more difficult. However, researchers are experimenting with a new device that can be used in an outpatient setting without the need for sedation to help diagnose the condition.
Diagnosing Barrett’s Esophagus
The new tool is a small, swallowable device that’s about the size of a normal medication pill. The patient swallows the device attached to a small catheter, and it makes its way to the patient’s stomach in a couple of minutes. From there, a small balloon inflates, and the device is gently withdrawn back through the distal esophagus where sensors gather DNA from the epithelial surface.
“The balloon is then deflated and inverted back into the capsule, thus protecting the acquired biosample from further dilution or contamination in the proximal esophagus or oropharynx,” researchers said.
The DNA is then extracted from inside the device, and molecular testing is conducted to see if the patient is dealing with Barrett’s esophagus. Researchers tested the device on 156 patients, and while 18 percent were unable to swallow the device, 82 percent were able to swallow it and there were no reports of pain or choking. 72 percent of patients reported their tolerance of the device as “excellent,” and the balloon reached the stomach in an average of 3.3 minutes.
Most importantly, researchers were able to retrieve enough DNA to perform the molecular testing in 91 percent of cases.
Less Invasive Procedure
The procedure is much less invasive than an endoscopy, which is the traditional diagnostic technique. Also, since the patient doesn’t need to be put to sleep and it can be performed on an outpatient basis, researchers believe it could greatly reduce costs associated with diagnosing the condition. Since it’s a minimally invasive test, researchers hope that it may become standardized as a testing procedure for individuals at risk for Barrett’s esophagus, like men over the age of 50. It could help diagnose the condition before symptoms develop, which greatly improves treatment outcomes and can stave off deadly consequences, like esophageal cancer.
Hopefully this pill-like device continues to show promise and it becomes and effective way to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus in its infancy. Until then, we’ll continue to help patients using the traditional endoscopic technique. If you have been experiencing any of the symptoms we mentioned above, do yourself a favor and set up a meeting with Dr. Koeplin’s office today.