What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous lesion that can develop most often after experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as “acid reflux”, for many years. Barrett’s esophagus develops when cells that line the esophageal wall begin to change in response to the acid they are exposed to from GERD. Annually, only about 1 in 1,000 Barrett’s esophagus cases become cancerous, but screening and monitoring is important for early detection of advanced precancerous changes and early cancer as well as to treat and reverse disease progression.

Risk factors 

The most common risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus is having had severe gastroesophageal reflux disease for several years. Men are at increased risk for the disease, along with a history of smoking and individuals who are classified as overweight or obese.

Screening and Diagnosis 

Having Barrett’s esophagus puts a person at a much higher risk for developing esophageal cancer, so doctors recommend that individuals over the age of 50 with chronic GERD symptoms and other risk factors are screened regularly. To screen for Barrett’s esophagus, doctors use a procedure known as endoscopy, which is a non-surgical procedure used to examine a person’s digestive tract. If you have chronic GERD symptoms, consider getting screened at Columbia today.

Monitoring Esophageal Cancer with Barrett’s Esophagus 

If you have Barrett’s esophagus, you are at a higher risk for esophageal cancer. You might have regular upper endoscopies, where a flexible tube called an endoscope is used to look at the inside of your esophagus. Your doctor may also remove small pieces of tissue (biopsies) to check for advanced pre-cancerous cells (dysplasia). For these procedures, you will be under sedation. 

If there are areas of dysplasia, your care team may recommend endoscopic treatment of the abnormal area, with the goal of lowering the long-term risk of esophageal cancer. There are a variety of treatment options, including radiofrequency ablation, cryoballoon ablation, Hybrid-APC ablation, endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), and endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD).  If early cancer is detected, this can often be completely removed using endoscopic techniques, avoiding surgery altogether. Based on the specifics of your case, your physician will recommend which treatment or treatments would be best for you.   

Columbia Expertise 

The HICCC is a world leader in esophageal disease screening and prevention. We are one of the highest volume centers in the northeast for esophageal disease, particularly Barrett’s esophagus. When you come to Columbia for screening or treatment of Barrett’s esophagus, you will be cared for by a team of experts with countless experience in detection, minimally invasive procedures, and esophageal sparing techniques. Beyond expert care during treatment, the HICCC provides a one stop shop for patients to receive high quality service before, during and after treatment. This includes specialized services such as nutritionists, occupational therapists, and your own comprehensive care team.