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Judy finally found relief for her chronic heartburn.

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Taking Heat to Heartburn

Radiofrequency ablation treats esophageal tissue harmed by acid reflux

After battling heartburn with over-the-counter and prescription medications for years, Judy Blatti finally got to the point where she "just felt lousy."

It's a good thing she did.

Chronic acid reflux was actually burning the lining of her esophagus. This condition, called Barrett's esophagus, can increase the risk for esophageal cancer.

Judy's physician in Joliet suspected Barrett's and referred her to Willis Parsons, MD, medical director of the Gastroenterology Center at Northwest Community Healthcare. The one-hour drive north may have saved her life.

In 2007, Judy became one of Dr. Parsons' first NCH candidates for the HALO360 radiofrequency ablation procedure, which destroys precancerous Barrett's cells by delivering heat in a precise and highly controlled manner. "I tell my patients that it is like a controlled sunburn being applied to the affected tissues," Dr. Parsons says.

In Judy's case, a cancerous nodule was also discovered at the bottom of the esophagus. "We were very surprised, but we caught it early," Dr. Parsons says, adding that his team scooped out the nodule—and the cancer.

Before the advent of RF ablation, patients had two basic options for Barrett's esophagus: a wait-and-see approach or major surgery. Waiting offered too little while huge surgery to remove part of the esophagus seemed extreme for cells that had not yet become cancerous.

RF ablation offers a middle ground—one that may prevent cancer or detect it at an earlier stage. "In the past patients went from having heartburn to having esophageal cancer—and the only treatment for them was removing half the esophagus, often followed with chemotherapy and radiation therapy," says Dr. Parsons, who adds that more than 200 esophageal RF ablation procedures have been performed at NCH with success outcomes above the 90 percent range.

Judy urges frequent heartburn sufferers to seek help. "You think it's just heartburn, but it could be eating away at your esophagus and really doing some damage," she says.

Robert Aki, MD

Willis Parsons, MD

Medical Director of the Gastroenterology Center at NCH

  • Medical school: Vanderbilt University
  • Internship, Residency and Fellowship: Brigham and Women's Hospital
  • Board-certified: Gastroenterology

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Last Updated 04/10/2009