Blog

Barrett’s Esophagus and Esophageal Cancer

There are two different types of esophageal cancer, which include adenocarcinoma and squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. Squamous cell cancer often impacts African Americans or people that drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes on an excessive basis. Fortunately, this type of cancer isn’t increasing in numbers. On the other hand, the number of adenocarcinoma cases continues to increase in frequency, as it happens most often in Caucasians or with anyone suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

A symptom of GERD is heartburn, as it impacts around 20% of adults in America at least two times per week. While these individuals have an increased risk of esophagus cancer, the vast majority of these people will never develop it.

However, an estimated amount of 10-15% of the people with GERD will experience a change in their esophageal lining, which is a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Many doctors believe that the majority of cases of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus begin to occur in Barrett’s tissue.

Barrett’s Esophagus Symptoms

Barrett’s esophagus happens once the esophageal lining begins to change and becomes similar to the same type of tissue that borders the intestine. Patients are most likely to experience Barrett’s if they had GERD at a younger age or have had symptoms for a long time. However, the severity or the frequency of GERD doesn’t impact the likelihood of forming Barrett’s.

Dysplasia is a precancerous change within the tissue that can often occur in Barrett’s tissue. A doctor can view Barrett’s tissue during an endoscopy, but this procedure isn’t sufficient for a diagnosis. Performing a biopsy is necessary to confirm the diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus.

Causes and Risk Factors

Understanding the causes and risk factors of esophagus cancer is important if you believe you may be at risk. For example, Barrett’s esophagus is twice as likely to occur in men compared to women. Typically, it’s found in middle-aged Caucasian men that have dealt with heartburn for many years.

Currently, there isn’t an agreement between experts on who should be screened for esophagus cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is fairly uncommon and esophageal cancer is even rarer with individuals suffering from heartburn. One option is to screen patients that are older than 50 who have suffered from heartburn or need medication to control heartburn over the last several years. If the initial screening for Barrett’s tissue is negative, there isn’t a reason to repeat it.

Treatment and Survival Rate

A doctor will conduct an upper endoscopy to determine if you are dealing with Barrett’s esophagus symptoms. Barrett’s tissue has a much more different appearance compared to the normal lining of the esophagus, as it’s easily visible while performing an endoscopy. While this exam is highly accurate, your doctor will still need to perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis while also looking for any signs of dysplasia.

A biopsy will only slightly increase the procedure time, as it doesn’t result in any esophagus pain and it rarely causes any complications. Typically, your doctor can give you the results of the endoscopy after it’s done, but you will need to wait a few days to receive the results of the biopsy.

How to Treat Barrett’s Esophagus?

Medicines or surgery can often control the symptoms of GERD. Unfortunately, medications or surgery can’t reverse Barrett’s esophagus or completely eradicate the risk of cancer. There are a few experimental treatments being used to destroy Barrett’s tissue with an endoscope but these treatments can result in complications, and it’s unclear if it’s effective at preventing esophageal cancer.

Understanding Dysplasia

Dysplasia a type of precancerous condition that can only be diagnosed by reviewing biopsy specimens underneath a microscope. Doctors will subdivide the condition into three different categories, whether it’s low-grade, high-grade, or indefinite. Your doctor may recommend more endoscopies if dysplasia is located on your biopsy. Esophageal surgery or an attempt to eliminate Barrett’s tissue are other options. The course of action is highly dependent on the type of dysplasia and your overall health.

How Often Do You Need an Endoscopy If You Have Barrett’s Esophagus?

Patients with Barrett’s esophagus do not have a high risk for esophageal cancer, as it’s around 0.5% per year. A diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus shouldn’t be a cause for alarm due to these percentages. However, it’s still a good idea to schedule periodic endoscopies to stay proactive. An endoscopy with a biopsy will only need to occur every three years if the initial biopsy didn’t show dysplasia. Your doctor will make additional recommendations if dysplasia is found during the biopsy.

Closing Thoughts

Learning more about esophageal cancer symptoms and treatment is important if you or a loved one is suffering from esophagus cancer. The esophageal cancer survival rate is around 47% after five years. Reaching out to your doctor is essential in getting the best esophageal cancer treatment for your circumstances.