Catching the silent killer: a new study on esophageal cancer

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Many of us might not know that a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) is the key warning sign of a dangerous kind of throat cancer.

Esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), as it’s known, is a silent killer that has been claiming more lives over the years.

If we want to stop it, we need to catch it early, and that means improving how we look for it in those with BE.

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado (CU) Cancer Center decided to take a closer look.

They studied more than 20,000 patients in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, who were diagnosed with BE between 2006 and 2020.

The Big Reveal

They discovered something troubling: a lot of the time, patients had a normal throat examination, known as an endoscopy, but were diagnosed with EAC not long after.

In fact, up to half of EAC cases were found like this. The team named this situation post endoscopy esophageal adenocarcinoma (PEEC).

The finding is alarming because early detection is key to treating cancer. The more we can catch at the early stage, the better chance we have of beating it.

The patients who had normal endoscopies but were later diagnosed with EAC represent “missed” cancer cases. Yet, these “missed” cases also offer a chance to learn and improve our methods of spotting cancer.

Improving Our Search

In earlier research, we didn’t fully understand how our screening methods were failing some EAC patients. Often, the studies were small or had problems that might have skewed their findings.

But this latest research gives us more reliable information. With this, we can work towards more effective screening practices.

The exact reasons why our current screening methods fail some patients are still a mystery. But the research team believes that several steps can be taken to enhance screenings.

One way is to use the best endoscopy equipment available. It’s also crucial for doctors to take their time during the procedure to inspect the BE area thoroughly and follow strict guidelines on testing samples.

But we can’t stop there. The researchers suggest that future studies should also look at using other ways of diagnosing, like testing for biological markers, to predict BE-related EAC.

This could potentially help catch the disease in its early stages and save more lives.

A Ray of Hope

In the end, the goal of this new study is to provide better care for people with BE. If we can make these changes and learn from our “missed” cases, we can hopefully catch more EAC early.

It won’t be easy, but with the right tools and methods, we have a fighting chance against this silent killer. The researchers at CU Cancer Center have set us on the right path. Now it’s up to us to follow it and keep pushing for progress.

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The study was published in Gastroenterology.

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