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Stop the Burn

Have recurring heartburn? Turn to the northwest suburb's GI experts. Find a physician now or call 847.618.4YOU (4968) for a physician referral.

Feeling the Burn?

Ignoring symptoms of heartburn can lead to more than just discomfort

Frequent heartburn can be a nagging, burning nuisance. But something more sinister may be at play, especially for heartburn sufferers who ignore their discomfort.

"Most people think that heartburn is a benign symptom of acid reflux, but some of these people have a precancerous problem called Barrett's esophagus," says Willis Parsons, MD, medical director of the Gastroenterology Center at Northwest Community Hospital.

Barrett's esophagus is a disorder in which stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus. This change in the lining can lead to esophageal cancer. "If you get esophageal cancer, it's very hard to survive it. The five-year-survival rate is less than 10 percent," Dr. Parsons warns.

However, for patients who visit the NCH Gastroenterology Center—the most technologically advanced GI facility in Illinois—there's good news. NCH uses the BARRX® HALO360 Ablation System to destroy the precancerous cells (called dysplasia) that can be associated with Barrett's. "The way I describe HALO ablation to my patients is it's basically a controlled sunburn. It's using energy to burn the layer of the esophagus where the Barrett's is located," says Dr. Parsons.

Just as with any sunburn, the burned tissue hurts. "We give patients medicines to coat and soothe the burned area," Dr. Parsons says, adding that patient comfort, convenience and privacy are made top priorities for all NCH patients undergoing GI procedures. To date, Dr. Parsons says, 200 patients have been treated with HALO at NCH. "The success rate for getting rid of Barrett's esophagus and precancerous changes is greater than 90 percent. It's a safe procedure."

In fact, says Dr. Parsons, NCH's Gastroenterology Center offers a full range of endoscopic services, including endoscopic ultrasound and endoscopic mucosal resection, so that if early cancerous nodules are present in the esophagus, his team can treat those patients as well. "Some facilities have to refer patients elsewhere for the staging and high-tech removal of early cancer within Barrett's. At NCH, we can treat patients from start to finish."

Lorraine S. Novas, MD

Willis Parsons, MD

Medical Director of the Gastroenterology Center at NCH

  • Board Certified: Gastroenterology
  • Medical School: Vanderbilt University
  • INTERNSHIP, RESIDENCY AND FELLOWSHIP: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University

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Last Updated 04/10/2009