Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition in America. The most common symptom is heartburn. GERD happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. GERD can increase the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.
About 10-15% of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus. 90% of diagnosed esophageal cancer occurs in patients with no prior history of Barrett’s Esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-malignant condition in which the cells that line the lower part of the esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach) become abnormal. This is called dysplasia, a change in cells that does not normally occur in the throat, that can lead to an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Barrett’s Esophagus occurs when acid reflux damages the tissue in your esophagus. Repeated exposure to gastric acid inflames the tissues that line the esophagus. With Barrett’s Esophagus, the cells can become precancerous.
- Caucasian men
- Over age 50
- With obesity
- GERD history
- Smoking history
- Family history of Barrett’s
- Esophageal cancer in a first degree relative
Current guidelines recommend screening for Barrett’s Esophagus in men with frequent GERD or whose symptoms have persisted for more than five years, and have two or more risk factors. Currently screening for women is only recommended if they have multiple risk factors and a documented family history of Barrett’s or esophageal cancer in a first degree relative.
Symptoms are usually due to GERD such as frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing and sometimes chest pain. Additional symptoms that should cause a patient seek help include vomiting red blood or blood that looks like coffee grounds, passing black or bloody stools and unintentional weight loss.
Barrett’s esophagus is usually diagnosed through an endoscopy, which is a procedure that uses a lighted tube to look inside the esophagus. During this exam, your doctor at Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn will take samples of tissue to test for abnormal cells.
If you have been diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus, your Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn GI doctor will recommend regular endoscopies every three to five years to monitor your condition and detect any changes in the cells of your esophagus.
Patients diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus will be prescribed once daily proton pump inhibitor therapy to reduce stomach acid to help protect your esophagus and reduce the risk of cancer.
Your Gastroenterology Associates of Brooklyn GI doctor will also recommend to stopping smoking or drinking alcohol to reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Multiple clinical studies report that endoscopic therapy is effective to eliminate precancerous cell changes and early cancer for some patients at high risk. Endoscopic therapy is radiofrequency ablation of the precancerous cells in the esophagus and is an FDA approved technique to treat Barrett’s esophagus. Patients with low risk may benefit from close monitoring of the condition with endoscopies every 12 months in lieu of endoscopic therapy.
Endoscopic radiofrequency ablation is a procedure performed under general anesthesia that uses high-energy radio waves to burn and destroy precancerous cells in the lining of the esophagus.
The good news is that most people with Barrett’s esophagus do not develop cancer. But if you have been diagnosed with this condition, it is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and maintain regular screenings for early detection and treatment. By doing so, you can help keep yourself healthy and reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Contact Gastroenterology of Brooklyn to schedule a consultation and receive the correct diagnosis and all your treatment options.