Newport Beach woman's esophageal cancer is eradicated—without surgery—by Dr. Kenneth Chang

May 17, 2011
Marge Hoban

PATIENT STORIES: Losing one’s esophagus is a life-changing experience, one that UCI Health’s Dr. Kenneth Chang wanted to prevent for Newport Beach resident Marge Hoban.

An active woman in her 70s, Hoban had suffered from intense heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that became unbearable about a year ago.

In spring 2010, a gastroenterologist at a community hospital diagnosed her with an esophageal ulcer, a hiatal hernia and Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which stomach acid has damaged the lining of the esophagus. The condition may develop into esophageal cancer

After undergoing several diagnostic endoscopy procedures to determine the extent of her condition, Hoban was told by her doctor that surgery to remove her esophagus was necessary because early stage cancer was already present.

“They were ready to schedule a surgeon to operate,” Hoban recalls. “Losing my esophagus—and possibly the quality of life I was used to—wasn’t acceptable. I knew there must be some other way to deal with this.”

Hoban decided to confront her diagnosis head-on. She did what millions of other Americans do.

“I got on my computer,” she says. “I needed to know if there were other choices that might replace this frightening operation.”

Hoban read about treatment options and found references online to Chang and UC Irvine, a world leader in the research and treatment of digestive diseases.

She consulted with Chang and in December 2010, he performed an outpatient procedure called an endoscopic mucosal resection to remove the cancerous areas. Within a few days Hoban was “out and about” and a short time later, she was back on the tennis court playing her favorite sport.

Hoban saw Chang again in late January 2011 for a second outpatient procedure. He used the “Chang Cap,” a complex endoscopic technique he helped develop using radiofrequency energy, to heat and vaporize the Barrett’s tissue in her esophagus.

“There was a little discomfort the first night after the procedure, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the heartburn,” she says.

Within a month, Hoban was back to playing tennis with her friends three times a week. She continues to volunteer as a marketing advisor for RSVP, a division of the Orange County Volunteer Center OneOC that promotes the placement of senior volunteers with community nonprofit agencies.

“Many people don’t realize there’s an alternative to having your esophagus removed,” says Chang, founding director of UC Irvine’s H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center and an expert in advanced endoscopic procedures for cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy.

Chang removed the remaining damage to the lining of Hoban’s esophagus during a follow-up visit in late April. Hoban says she has recovered quickly and once again is back to her normal routines.

“I’m the same person as before – I get to plan ahead and I expect to continue living the life I want,” she says. “I can’t put into words the relief I feel about having these procedures done as an outpatient.”

This spring, Hoban feels well enough to travel to Maryland to see her son, daughter-in-law and 11-year-old granddaughter.

For Marge Hoban, knowledge is power. “People should know that if they have long term heartburn they need to get it checked,” she says. “I did not realize the potential damage it could cause.”