Britons at risk of developing cancer due to severe heartburn should be offered a no-scalpel procedure to treat the condition on the NHS.
The new, 60-minute procedure tightens the valve at the entrance to the stomach to prevent acid from leaking out after eating – the main cause of heartburn symptoms such as chest pain and a burning sensation in the throat.
It will be given to patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that occurs when ingested acid damages the lining of the esophagus – the food tube between the throat and stomach – resulting in precancerous changes in the affected tissue and even the cancer itself.
Conventional treatment involves removing damaged tissue, but heartburn problems still persist.
Brits at risk of developing cancer due to severe heartburn should be offered a no-scalpel procedure to treat the condition on the NHS (Stocked Image)
Now NHS chiefs have given the green light for a procedure, called transoral fundoplication (TIF), which in most cases ends acid reflux for good. Trials have shown that nearly nine out of ten patients are free of heartburn symptoms after three years.
‘The benefit of this procedure is twofold,’ said Dr Rehan Haidari, a consultant gastroenterologist at University College London Hospital and the first UK doctor to perform the surgery.
It reduces the risk of cancer and increases your quality of life, because you no longer live with uncomfortable symptoms. This is a huge step forward for NHS patients.
Chronic heartburn, known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GORD, affects one in five Britons. It is often caused by overeating, smoking, or stress, and it can also lead to a persistent cough and hoarseness. If left untreated, about 15 percent of sufferers will develop Barrett’s esophagus.
The new 60-minute procedure tightens the valve at the entrance to the stomach to prevent acid leakage after eating – the main cause of heartburn symptoms such as chest pain and a burning sensation in the throat.
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), the medications commonly prescribed to treat acid reflux, are designed to prevent the stomach from producing too much acid but are ineffective in many cases.
“You have people taking PPIs for years without real control over their condition,” Dr. Hedry said. These people are still chomping at Rene [heartburn] tablets every night.
Patients may be offered radiofrequency ablation, in which a tube is inserted down their throat and damaged tissue is burned. However, Dr. Haidari said, “Enucleation does not solve the underlying problem, which is acid reflux.”
Traditionally, the next step has been keyhole surgery. Surgeons make several incisions in the abdomen and then tie the upper part of the stomach around the lower part of the esophagus, effectively tightening the damaged valve and stopping the acid from flowing upward.
“This is a huge step forward for NHS patients,” said Dr Rehan Haidari, a consultant gastroenterologist at University College London Hospital and the first UK doctor to perform the surgery.
However, side effects include swallowing problems, bloating, and excessive belching. Moreover, about a third of patients still need to use proton pump inhibitors.
The newly available treatment requires no incisions and results in fewer side effects. Instead, doctors placed a surgical suture tool, called EsophyX, down the patient’s throat and made 20 small stitches on the tissue below the esophagus.
This creates a new valve and reduces the amount of acid that can pass through.
The procedure is done under general anesthesia and can be done in less than an hour – patients don’t even need to stay in the hospital overnight.
One of the patients who benefited from the TIF procedure was Rachel Force, 57, of St Austell in Cornwall, who has struggled with GORD for more than 30 years.
She said: “Over the years I’ve had endoscopy and colonoscopy and seen many doctors and consultants, both privately and on the NHS. It got to the point where I was given every PPI he could prescribe for me.
Nothing helped me and I kept waking up at night with GERD. My stomach was constantly bloated and the pain wasn’t good.
Rachel, who runs a company that sells healthcare products to the nursing and care sector, said her symptoms had worsened in recent years until a doctor’s visit in 2020 confirmed she had Barrett’s esophagus.
While she experienced a number of post-surgery side effects, including pain, nausea, and diarrhea, Rachel said her jords were significantly reduced. She added: “I feel fine and I am very happy that I had the operation. It changed my life so much for the better.
“Now I wake up without stomach pain and can sleep normally.”