"I joined Dr. Reid's study because I thought that even if I couldn't be helped, I might be able to help someone else."
Heartburn is one health issue that over 100 million Americans know firsthand. But for almost 2 million people, heartburn, a condition caused by stomach-acid reflux, can mean chronic disease with sometimes-deadly consequences.
Plagued by chronic heartburn and an ulcer at the base of his esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach, Jim Moell sought medical help. He found Dr. Brian Reid, a Hutchinson Center researcher studying Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition caused by chronic acid reflux. Reid's group uses genetic technology to save high-risk Barrett's patients like Moell from cancer of the esophagus, an increasingly common, deadly form of cancer.
Under Reid's study, regular examination of the cells in Moell's esophagus during the next few years eventually revealed that his condition had developed into early stage cancer. Moell had surgery in 1987 to remove part of his esophagus and has been cancer-free ever since.
"I joined Dr. Reid's study because I thought that even if I couldn't be helped, I might be able to help someone else," Moell said.
Since 1983 more than 800 volunteers have participated in the Seattle Barrett's Esophagus Program. Their participation allowed Reid and colleagues at the Hutchinson Center and the University of Washington to demonstrate the success of a highly sensitive, DNA-based method for predicting a patient's risk of esophageal cancer. The technique involves periodically analyzing cells from the lining of the esophagus to check for genetic changes that indicate the earliest stages of cancer. This screening method has already saved many lives, boosting survival rates for esophageal cancer from 4 percent to over 80 percent, and it may be extended to early detection of other types of cancer.
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