Detecting cancer before symptoms appear – William Irwin’s story

William Irwin, a 35 year resident of Sarasota, is no stranger to the healthcare system. He fought and beat prostate cancer more than once, which left him with radiation burns in his colon and stomach. So when he learned he was eligible for a new clinical test that checks for abnormal cells in the esophagus, Irwin was game.

EsoCheck is a device that collects cells from the lower esophagus without the need for endoscopy. The sampled cells can then be analyzed for DNA changes indicative of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer using a first-of-its-kind genomic test known as EsoGuard®.

Mr Irwin and his family enjoy Siesta Beach

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus changes to cells similar to those found in the small intestine. In some patients, such modification is precancerous and carries an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Florida Digestive Health Specialists is the first gastroenterology network in the state to perform EsoCheck tests.

“Most patients at risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma never or rarely get symptoms,” said Dr. Scott Corbett, a gastroenterologist and director of the Barrett’s Esophagus Institute at Florida Digestive Health Specialists. “This technology gives us an opportunity to find many of the 94-95 percent of patients who are at risk for developing esophageal cancer but don’t know it.”

Corbett recommended EsoCheck for Irwin due to his medical history, ethnicity and age (Barrett’s esophagus is most often found in middle-aged Caucasian men). During the in-office procedure, Irwin swallowed the vitamin-sized EsoCheck device, which contains a small inflatable balloon attached to a thin catheter. The balloon was then inflated and gently pulled back, swabbing the target area for a sample of cells, which are tested for biomarkers that have been shown to be highly accurate in detecting Barrett’s Esophagus, the primary precursor to the most common and deadly form of esophageal cancer.

“I’ve been through a million tests,” said Irwin. “This one was very simple and easy.”

The test revealed abnormal cells, which prompted Dr. Corbett to recommend an endoscopy.

“Tests such as Esocheck/Esoguard will become more popular as the public becomes more aware of their potential risks of esophageal cancer despite lack of any symptoms. However, we as clinicians must be willing to address abnormal findings or else we risk just increasing a person’s anxiety,” said Dr. Corbett. “Fortunately, there is conservative treatment available for Barrett’ esophagus and early esophageal cancer.”

Irwin is familiar with Barrett’s Esophagus; two of his family members are gastroenterologists and a close friend of his lost part of his esophagus and lung due to the illness. But with no symptoms, Irwin was unaware that he was experiencing the same condition.

“(This test) is a great thing for the community and for many other doctors going forward,” said Irwin. “It was great to know what I have, so Dr. Corbett can blast the cancer away.”