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Hope for those suffering from a rare throat disease

A story in today's San Francisco Chronicle highlights a new surgical approach for treating achalasia, a rare throat disease that affects the ability of the esophagus to move toward the stomach and makes it hard for those who suffer from the disorder to swallow. Writer Drew Joseph describes peroral endoscopic myotomy, or POEM - a technique developed by Japanese surgeons. It is performed by only a handful of doctors in the United States, including Stanford's Homero Rivas, MD:

Called peroral endoscopic myotomy, or POEM, the surgery is a less invasive means of accomplishing what a traditional operation has done - relaxing the muscle to allow food to enter the stomach.

Both POEM and the traditional procedure involve surgeons making a small cut in the muscle - called the lower esophageal sphincter - to loosen it. But while the standard operation requires doctors to make incisions in the patient's abdomen, POEM leaves patients with no external cuts.

Instead, doctors insert an endoscope down the patient's mouth and tear a little slit in the esophagus to gain access to the muscle. Surgeons say the new minimal approach helps patients recover faster.

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