Understanding Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) for Barrett’s Esophagus

Cross section of lower esophagus showing 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 time, 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. The changed cells may protect the esophagus from stomach acid. But these cells are more likely than normal lining cells to become cancerous.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a procedure that destroys the changed cells. This can help prevent or treat cancer of the esophagus.

Why RFA for Barrett’s esophagus is done

This procedure removes the changed lining from the esophagus. It is most often advised for people who show precancerous changes in the lining and very early cancer. RFA destroys the abnormal lining. Normal lining then grows back to replace it.

How RFA for Barrett’s esophagus is done

RFA is most often done on an outpatient basis. That means you go home the same day. During the procedure:

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

  • The doctor puts a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) into your mouth. He or she passes the tube down your throat into the esophagus. The tube sends live video from inside the esophagus to a computer screen.

  • A wire with a tiny electrode attached is put through the tube. The doctor moves it down to the area of changed cells. Energy is sent into the electrode. This heats up the esophagus lining, destroying it.

  • When the procedure is done, the doctor removes the wire and tube.

Risks of RFA for Barrett’s esophagus

These include:

  • Chest pain

  • Sore throat or trouble swallowing

  • Narrowing of the esophagus (stricture)

  • Irritation of or hole (perforation) in the esophagus

  • Problems related to the anesthesia