If you’re suffering from Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition, you are likely worried about the risks that come along with your diagnosis.
In addition to any uncomfortable symptoms from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s esophagus carries a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Luckily, there are effective treatments available today to treat Barrett’s esophagus, including radiofrequency ablation.
The Risks of Leaving Barrett’s Esophagus Untreated
Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the tissue that typically lines your throat is replaced by a different type of cell. These new cells are similar to the ones that line your intestines, and they carry an increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.
This cellular change results when stomach acids, bile, and pepsin reach the esophagus due to a weak lower esophageal sphincter. If GERD is diagnosed at a young age, or for smokers, the risk of Barrett’s esophagus is greater. Experts estimate that Barrett’s esophagus affects between 8% and 10% of the adult GERD population.
Barrett’s esophagus itself does not cause any outward symptoms, and can only be confirmed by a pathology evaluation of cells biopsied from the esophagus during an endoscopy.
If you have GERD as well as Barrett’s esophagus, you may be feeling heartburn, nausea, chest pain, and regurgitation. Other symptoms could include difficulty swallowing, a chronic cough, hoarseness, and frequent throat clearing. However, some adults with Barrett’s esophagus may never have any of these symptoms.
For those diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, the anxiety of knowing their cancer risk can make medical treatment a necessity. Radiofrequency ablation is a highly effective, minimally invasive procedure to treat Barrett’s esophagus.
LEARN MORE: Dr. Chandrasoma discusses Barrett’s esophagus
What is Radiofrequency Ablation
Radiofrequency ablation (RF) is a medical treatment that uses radio waves to kill any cancerous or precancerous cells in the esophagus.
It is similar to a diagnostic endoscopy, except that this is a treatment device. A specialist inserts an endoscope with an attached RF element, through your mouth, and into your esophagus to administer radio waves.
These waves give off intense heat to destroy cancerous esophageal cells, allowing healthy cells to take their place. The risk of progression to esophageal cancer is greatly reduced as these healthy cells replace Barrett’s cells.
RF ablation has demonstrated impressive efficacy. According to a 2013 analysis of 18 studies, radiofrequency ablation completely eradicates cancer risk 91% of the time.
What to Expect from Radiofrequency Ablation Treatment
If your doctor has recommended this course of treatment for Barrett’s esophagus, there are a few things to expect during your visit.
It is minimally invasive. It is typically performed on an outpatient basis so that you will not require hospitalization.
It is a painless treatment. You will be sedated before the procedure begins and as such, you will not feel any pain with the treatment.
The procedure is quick. Total treatment time is approximately 30 minutes or less. After the procedure is complete, you’ll move to a recovery room as you come out of anesthesia. You’ll be up and ready to move soon afterward. You can even return to work the next day.
Follow on procedures are typically required. You may need multiple radiofrequency ablation treatments to completely ablate the cancerous cells.
LEARN MORE: Mayo Clinic Video on RF ablation
Radiofrequency Ablation Side Effects
As with most medical treatments, you may face some side effects if you opt for this procedure. Some of the most commonly reported are:
- Pain in the chest
- Small cuts in the esophageal lining
- Narrowing of the esophagus
Your doctor can prescribe medication to help with any uncomfortable sensations after the procedure. That may include a prescription for the pain as well as a numbing medication to help alleviate oral discomfort.
You will likely also receive high-dose antacids to treat your GERD symptoms.
Your doctor will also schedule follow-up appointments to confirm the destruction of the cancerous and precancerous cells. Your doctor may also use an endoscope to take a biopsy of your throat tissue during the examinations.
LEARN MORE: Mass General discussion of RF ablation
Reduce Your Risk of Developing Barrett’s Esophagus
If your doctor has told you that you are at-risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus, you need to act immediately to get your GERD symptoms under control. Luckily, there are some steps you can take now to lessen the severity of your acid reflux and decrease your risks.
If you are overweight, losing weight can also help relieve GERD. Obesity increases the risk of acid reflux and GERD symptoms. For many sufferers, obtaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 24 or less can result in the elimination of these symptoms.
Manage Your Eating Habits
We recommend eating 5 or 6 small meals daily and consuming adequate water. The number of ounces to drink daily is equal to one-half of your weight in pounds (up to 100 ounces). Focus on eating more protein and fewer carbohydrates and fats. Eating slowly and deliberately can also help you avoid overeating.
LEARN MORE: 5 steps to an acid reflux diet
Avoid Your Trigger Foods
You will need to avoid foods that trigger your symptoms. Although everyone is different, the standard list of trigger foods include:
- Fried food
- Tomatoes and tomato-based products
- Spearmint and peppermint
- Citrus fruit like lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges
- Soft drinks
- Spicy food
LEARN MORE: Foods that cause acid reflux symptoms
Try Natural Remedies
Sometimes natural herbs can help reduce your acid reflux symptoms. We encourage experimenting with these natural remedies to determine if they work for you.
- Ginger root
- Apple cider vinegar
- Aloe juice
- Slippery elm powder
- Baking soda with water
- Alkaline water
Always check with your doctor before you begin any taking any treatment, including these natural remedies and supplements. Also, follow your doctor’s recommendations and advice. If your doctor has recommended any lifestyle changes, follow their advice. Take any prescribed medication, keep your appointments, and follow the recommended diet and exercise plans.
LEARN MORE: More articles on natural remedies
Radiofrequency Ablation to Reduce Your Risk of Esophageal Cancer
The risk of disease progression beyond Barrett’s esophagus often results in increased stress and sleepless nights. The best recommendation we have is to avoid Barrett’s esophagus by following the strategy outlined above. However, if you have Barrett’s, work with your doctor to manage your symptoms and consider RF ablation to eradicate the pre-cancerous cells.
You should also stay up to date on the latest developments concerning this disease. At RefluxMD, we strive to bring you the latest news on developing treatments for Barrett’s esophagus and GERD, as well as tips on how to manage your acid reflux symptoms.