8 Things You Should Know About Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus is an issue that can arise in the tissue lining the esophagus. It occurs when the tissue that lines the esophagus begins to resemble the tissue lining the intestines due to chronic regurgitation of stomach acid. This is problematic for a number of reasons, including being a possible precursor of esophageal cancer. It is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and is generally considered a pre-cancer, calling for thorough monitoring and treatment. With care, gastroenterologists may be able to prevent it from turning into cancer.

Barrett’s esophagus is actually quite common, with one in six Americans having weekly reflux symptoms, and 10% of Americans having Barrett’s esophagus. Most patients with the condition will not develop cancer, however, some patients may develop a change in the tissue called dysplasia, which increases the likelihood of it developing into esophageal cancer.

To get screened for Barrett’s esophagus, reach out to Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates in Pennsylvania — with locations in Honesdale, Blakey, and Dingmans Ferry. Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates is a member organization of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE). We are committed to providing excellent, innovative gastrointestinal endoscopy care and digestive health. Our physicians are highly specialized in a wide range of endoscopic procedures of the digestive tract, including:

Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates is proud to provide our local residents with top-quality, progressive care for all their digestive and gastrointestinal problems. Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Downey, Dr. Talenti, and our experienced team of gastroenterology associates strive to bring the best nonsurgical solutions to these types of issues so that patients can live a more comfortable life.

If you are in Pennsylvania and are looking for a gastrointestinal exam or for Barrett’s esophagus treatment, schedule an appointment with Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates today.

Answering Common Questions About Barrett’s Esophagus

If you are suffering from chronic acid reflux or have been diagnosed or suspect you may have Barrett’s esophagus, you probably have a number of questions you want answered. Here are answers to some common questions people have regarding the condition:

Q: What causes Barrett’s esophagus?

A: Barrett’s esophagus is usually a compilation of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is when frequent acid reflux occurs in the esophagus, irritating and inflaming its lining. Chances of GERD are increased when someone is obese, has a hernia, is pregnant, has a tissue disorder like scleroderma, and other conditions. Acid reflux can particularly be aggravated by:

  • Smoking

  • Fatty or fried foods

  • Certain medications (such as aspirin)

  • Drinking coffee or alcohol

Over time, chronic acid reflux damage can change the tissue lining the lower esophagus — which is essentially what Barrett’s esophagus means.

Q: How often does Barrett’s esophagus become esophageal cancer?

A: Most people with GERD do not get Barrett’s esophagus, and only about 1% of people who have Barrett’s esophagus develop esophageal cancer. However, that 1% is fairly significant, when you realize that that is a 125 times higher risk of getting esophagus cancer than people without Barrett’s esophagus have. People diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus should get regular screenings/endoscopy exams to ensure that cancer has not begun to develop.

Q: How is Barrett’s esophagus diagnosed?

A: An endoscopy test is used to diagnose and stage Barrett’s esophagus. In this test, one of our gastroenterologists put a thin tube with a camera down your throat to examine the lining of your esophagus. You will typically be sedated and anesthetized during the exam to reduce discomfort. If the doctor finds any changes in the lining of your esophagus that indicate Barrett’s esophagus, a tissue sample will be taken and a biopsy under a microscope will be conducted, to check for cancer. This test gives us the information we need to diagnose whether or not you have Barrett’s esophagus, how far along the damage is, and the likelihood of it becoming cancerous and spreading to other parts of the body.

Q: What are the stages of Barrett’s esophagus?

A: There are five stages of Barrett’s esophagus:

  • Non-dysplastic (no cancerous tissue whatsoever)

  • Low-grade dysplasia (minor cell changes found)

  • High-grade dysplasia (Extensive cell changes, but not yet cancer)

  • Noninvasive cancer

  • Invasive cancer

Q: What is the treatment for Barrett’s esophagus?

A: One of the benefits of getting treatment for Barrett’s esophagus at Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates is that every one of our providers has been thoroughly trained and are experienced in treating this condition. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, we may recommend medications, lifestyle changes, or even surgery. Our goal is to provide you with treatment that will reduce your risk of cancer, make you feel better, and keep the disease from getting worse. Some specific endoscopic therapies that may be suitable for people with Barrett’s esophagus that is not yet strongly cancerous include:

  • Argon plasma coagulation — This technique involves the direction of argon gas through an endoscope to destroy potentially cancerous cells with an electric current.

  • Radiofrequency ablation — Radio waves are used to destroy abnormal tissue.

  • Cryoablation — This technique involves a gastroenterologist applying a very cold liquid or gas to the abnormal tissue to freeze and destroy it.

  • Photodynamic therapy — A light-sensitive drug and laser-therapy is conducted to destroy the abnormal cells.

  • Endoscopic mucosal resection — This procedure involves the shaving off of the abnormal tissue.

The gastroenterologists at Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates have had excellent results using these procedures. Contact us to learn more about how we can diagnose and treat Barrett’s esophagus.

Q: What treatment would I get if I got invasive cancer?

A: Treatment for esophagus cancer may involve surgery or a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Q: Can Barrett’s esophagus heal itself?

A: Lifestyle changes such as eliminating chocolate, spicy foods, fatty foods, caffeine, etc. can lead to healing from the condition. Medications also can help, such as proton pump inhibitors and antacids.

How Often Should You Have an Endoscopy?

Even though Barrett’s esophagus can increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer, the chances are still quite low. Being diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus is no reason to be alarmed. With regular upper endoscopy examinations and biopsies of the Barrett’s tissue (done about every three years), managing Barrett’s esophagus without complications is likely. If you are in Honesdale, Blakey, or Dingmans Ferry and would like to schedule an upper endoscopy examination, contact Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates now!