When stomach acid flows into the esophagus – acid reflux – it’s often due to a relaxed lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle between the esophagus and stomach. The cells in the lining of the esophagus begin to change, imitating the cells that line the stomach in order to tolerate the acid. This response is known as Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. Barrett’s may develop into adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
Barrett’s itself is not painful or life threatening. However, those with the condition are 30 to 125 times more likely to develop esophagus cancer than those without Barrett’s. Patients who have had acid reflux disease more than five years should get an endoscopy to detect whether or not they have Barrett’s.
Avera Digestive Disease Institute treats Barrett’s with radiofrequency ablation (RFA) therapy, delivered by state-of-the-art technology known as the HALO System by Barrx Medical. Currently, Avera is the only South Dakota health care provider to use this effective medical approach. RFA is an outpatient procedure that thermally injures about 1 mm of the diseased esophagus tissue. This tissue sheds away and allows new, healthy esophagus tissue to grow.
While the patient is sedated, a catheter is inserted through the mouth and delivers a controlled amount of radiofrequency energy to the affected tissue. A balloon-mounted catheter is used to deliver energy to larger diseased areas. Smaller areas are treated with an endoscope-mounted catheter.
Depending on how advanced the disease is, this procedure has a 90 to 98 percent five-year success rate of curing Barrett’s esophagus.