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Understanding Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) for Barrett’s Esophagus

The esophagus is the tube that joins the mouth to the stomach. In people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. Over many years, stomach acid can hurt the esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition where cells in the esophagus lining change to a different type of cell. These changed cells help protect the esophagus from stomach acid. But they're more likely than normal lining cells to become cancer.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that uses an electrical current to kill changed or damaged cells. It can be used to help prevent or treat cancer of the esophagus.

Why RFA for Barrett’s esophagus is done

RFA kills the changed cells in the esophagus. It's most often used for people who show precancerous changes in the lining. RFA destroys the abnormal cells in the lining so they can't grow into cancer. Normal lining cells then grow back to replace the damaged lining of the esophagus.

How RFA for Barrett’s esophagus is done

RFA is most often done as an outpatient. This means you go home the same day. During the procedure:

  • You are given medicine (anesthesia) to keep you from feeling pain and make you sleep during the procedure.

  • The doctor puts a thin, lighted tube (called an endoscope) into your mouth. The tube is passed down your throat into your esophagus. A camera in the tube sends live video from inside your esophagus to a computer screen.

  • A balloon that holds many tiny electrodes is put through the tube. It's moved down into the area of changed cells. It's inflated so that it touches the sides of the esophagus. Then electricity is sent into the electrodes. This heats up the esophagus lining, killing the cells.

  • When the procedure is done, the doctor takes out the balloon and the endoscope.

After RFA, your provider might talk with you about doing endoscopies every few months to watch the treated area. If needed, RFA can be repeated to be sure that all the changed cells are gone.

Risks of RFA for Barrett’s esophagus

Risks and side effects aren't common, but can include:

  • Chest discomfort or pain

  • Sore throat or trouble swallowing

  • Narrowing of the esophagus (stricture)

  • Irritation of or hole (perforation) in the esophagus

  • Bleeding in the treated area

  • Problems related to the anesthesia

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