Barrett’s esophagus – What is it?
In the U.S., three million chronic heartburn sufferers have now been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. Even more people are unaware that they are living with the condition because medications that are used to treat heartburn symptoms can mask this serious problem.
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition affecting the lining of the esophagus, the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Barrett’s esophagus is caused by injury to the esophagus from the chronic backwash of stomach contents (like acid and enzymes) that occurs with acid reflux. There are no symptoms specific to Barrett’s esophagus, other than the typical symptoms of acid reflux (or GERD).
In some people, the damage and inflammation associated with acid reflux can cause genetic changes that cause the normal esophagus tissue to change into intestinal tissue. When that happens, it is called Barrett’s esophagus (also known as intestinal metaplasia).
Who should be treated?
When left untreated, frequent or long-standing acid reflux symptoms can lead to the development of pre-cancerous cells. In a small percentage of patients, this can result in a life-threatening cancer of the esophagus (esophageal adenocarcinoma or EAC).
How is it treated?
An outpatient treatment that destroys the pre-cancerous tissue in the lining of the esophagus is now available at Hamilton Medical Center. The procedure, endoscopic radiofrequency ablation therapy using the HALO System, was featured in the New England Journal of Medicine as a highly effective treatment for complete eradication of Barrett’s esophagus.
If left untreated
Esophageal cancer is often incurable because the disease is frequently discovered in the advanced stages. Esophageal cancer has a five-year patient survival rate of just 16 percent. It usually starts with GERD, which can cause Barrett’s disease, which can lead to esophageal cancer. That’s why it’s important to seek medical treatment for symptoms of GERD, the most common being heartburn.
- It is estimated that 5.6% of people in the U.S. have Barrett’s esophagus.1
- People with Barrett’s esophagus are 30 to 125 times more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus than the general population.2
- The incidence of esophagus cancer has risen approximately six-fold in the U.S. since the 1970s. It is rising faster than breast cancer, prostate cancer, or melanoma.3
- Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men are affected more often than men of other races. Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in children.4