But when the doctor peered into Mr. Gnagy’s throat, what he saw alarmed him, and he immediately referred him to thoracic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Peters. After tests and a biopsy, the doctor’s initial diagnosis was confirmed: stage IV esophageal cancer. This week, we’re sharing Mr. Gnagy’s video account of his story, which originally published with Canandaigua Daily Messenger.
A Deadly Cancer
Esophageal cancer strikes only three percent of cancer victims but boasts the second highest death rate of all cancers—making it one of the deadliest in the U.S. Largely preventable through early detection and behavior modification, esophageal cancer is a disease that slowly targets older individuals—men in particular—who may have experienced symptoms of reflux for years. As the giant cohort of Baby Boomers move into middle age, heartburn has now become a common condition, making esophageal cancer awareness all the more important.
What’s It Got to Do with Reflux?
Reflux is a condition where the muscle around the opening from the stomach to the esophagus becomes lax, allowing stomach acid to wash up into the esophagus ulcerating its delicate epithelial cells. Years of reflux can cause the esophagus to undergo enough changes to lead to precancerous conditions and even cancer.
Treatment is targeted at eliminating the corrosive effects of stomach acid by using antacids, proton pump inhibitors and lifestyle modification. URMC is one of just 13 U.S. surgery sites chosen to offer the LINX Reflux Management System, a ring of small, bead-sized magnets that mechanically prevents the backwash of acid into the esophagus. The force between the magnets strikes the just-right balance: Weak enough that it opens wide for swallowing, but strong enough that it tightens the faulty seal back up after food has passed down.
Because reflux affects one in 10 Americans and is a precursor to esophageal cancer, it’s important to treat it as aggressively and completely as possible in the beginning stages. Important interventions include eliminating risk factors like obesity, smoking and drinking.
Gnagy’s cancer is now being treated at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, and he has responded well. He makes the trek to Wilmot every two weeks for chemotherapy and has been told that his cancer is now inactive.
April has been designated Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more about the disease and what you can do to prevent it visit the Esophageal Cancer Action Network.
An interview with Dan Gnagy also appeared in the Messenger-Post News, here.
For more information about the LINX* heartburn ring being implanted at URMC, click here.
* Of note, Peters has served as a consultant to the device’s parent company, TORAX Medical, and received nominal compensation for sharing his clinical expertise at meetings over the past three years. You can hear from a patient who has enjoyed success with the device here.