Frequently asked questions about Barrett’s esophagus
What are the symptoms?
There are no symptoms specific to Barrett’s esophagus, other than the typical symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD). These include heartburn, chest pain, and regurgitation.
Who is at risk?
Patients with GERD are at an increased risk for developing Barrett’s esophagus. Caucasian males over the age of 50 with chronic reflux symptoms or heartburn have a higher risk for the disease. Receiving a diagnosis at a young age or having a family history of Barrett’s esophagus also contribute to one’s risk. Being overweight and obese (body mass index 25-30) increases a person’s risk to develop esophageal cancer by almost two times.
How is Barrett’s esophagus diagnosed?
Barrett’s esophagus cannot be diagnosed by symptoms. A diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus is currently dependent on an upper endoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist. This procedure enables the doctor to directly visualize the esophagus and take tissue samples of the esophageal tissue.
How does a doctor follow a Barrett’s Esophagus patient?
If a Barrett’s esophagus is identified then it is important to follow the patient with regular gastroscopies to obtain biopsies to see if there is any associated dysplasia or early cancer that is arising in the Barrett’s esophagus that can be treated before a more serious problem arises. The follow up program will vary depending on the biopsy results. If one identifies a very high grade of dysplasia or early cancer then there are several options of treatment. These include using radiofrequency ablation system to eradicate the dysplastic tissue while preserving the healthy tissue underneath or surgery where the entire esophagus is removed.
Are treatment options available?
Yes, treatment with the radiofrequency ablation technology has been shown to reduce disease progression by removing precancerous tissue from the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus patients treated with radiofrequency ablation are less likely to progress to esophageal cancer compared to patients who undergo surveillance.
I’ve been told that I have Barrett’s Esophagus. Does this mean I will develop esophageal cancer?
Sometimes the cells at the lower end of the esophagus are replaced by columnar cells resembling those of the stomach and small intestine. This change is referred to as Barrett’s esophagus. This disorder is believed to increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer. It can be controlled with medications. Your physician need to carefully monitor the status of the cells in your esophagus to minimize the likelihood of developing cancer.
If I have Barrett’s esophagus, will I develop esophageal cancer?
Barrett’s esophagus is believed to increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer. However, the true risk of developing esophageal cancer in people with Barrett’s esophagus remains controversial. Most physicians recommend that people with Barrett’s esophagus undergo endoscopy about every two years to screen for cancer and allow early treatment. In some cases more frequent endoscopy is recommended.
These resources were made possible through a partnership between Medtronic and CDHF