Yes. When acid reflux causes severe inflammation in the esophagus, the healing process can replace the esophageal cells with intestinal cells which are more tolerant of acid. This transformation is called Barrett's esophagus. Although initially protective, in some patients continued genetic changes in these cells predispose this tissue to develop into intestinal-like cancer in the esophagus. This cancer has the worst prognosis of any human malignancy.
“Although initially protective, in some patients these cells develop into intestinal-like cancer in the esophagus.”
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE BARRETT’S ESOPHAGUS?
Frequent, prolonged or nocturnal heartburn are a few predisposing factors, but even some patients without symptoms are at risk. If chronic heartburn resolves without therapy this still needs investigation. Currently the best method to detect Barrett’s esophagus is a simple test called “upper endoscopy,” where a gastroenterologist passes a small video camera into the esophagus and stomach while you are sedated. This allows for visualization and sampling of the esophageal tissue to confirm the presence of Barrett’s tissue and help assess the risk for the individual.
WHAT CAN BE DONE IF I AM FOUND TO HAVE BARRETT’S ESOPHAGUS?
Most precancerous abnormalities in humans are addressed by removing the precancerous tissue and preventing cancer from occurring. In 2001 the FDA approved the use of radio-frequency to treat Barrett’s esophagus. By using this simple endoscopic method we are able to remove the Barrett’s precancerous tissue and minimize the risk of cancer. During the last decade over 80 peer-reviewed studies have been published demonstrating the safety, efficacy, cost effectiveness and durability of radio-frequency ablation for treating Barrett’s esophagus. If you or someone you know has this condition, it is likely we can help.
ABOUT Diplomate, American Board of Internal Medicine and Subspecialty Board of Gastroenterology Gastroenterology fellowship, University of Miami M.D., New York University School of Medicine
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