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Barrett's Esophagus

By DuPage Medical Group Gastroenterology

Barrett’s Esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition affecting the lining of the esophagus, which is the swallowing tube that carries solid food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach.

Development of Barrett’s Esophagus

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a disorder in which stomach acid and enzymes cause injury to the esophageal lining, producing symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation and chest pain. In some patients with GERD, the normal esophagus cells are damaged. Over time, this damage can result in inflammation and genetic changes that cause the cells to change. The tissue takes on a different appearance, microscopically changes from esophageal tissue to intestinal tissue. This is called “intestinal metaplasia”, which is most commonly referred to as Barrett’s esophagus.

Diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus

Barrett’s Esophagus is diagnosed through an endoscopy procedure. Endoscopy is a non-surgical procedure that is performed using conscious sedation. Conscious sedation allows you to be awake but not feel any pain or major discomfort.

Barrett’s Esophagus tissue will appear as a different color on examination. If this is found a biopsy of the tissue will be sent to pathology for evaluation. A finding of intestinal cells in the esophagus confirms a Barrett’s Esophagus diagnosis.

Grades of Barrett’s Esophagus

There are different “grades” of Barrett’s esophagus, according to biopsy and microscopic findings. The “grades” of Barrett’s esophagus include:

• Intestinal metaplasia (IM) without dysplasia
• IM with low-grade dysplasia
• IM with high-grade dysplasia

Dysplasia refers to inherent abnormalities of a tissue or cell that make it more cancer-like. While the presence of dysplasia may raise the risk of cancer, it is not considered cancer. Ultimately, higher grades of dysplasia may be considered cancerous if there are signs of tissue invasion.

Associated Risks

Barrett’s esophagus increases the risk of developing a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma (a specific type of cancer). While all grades of Barrett’s esophagus put you at a higher risk, low-grade and high-grade dysplasias are the highest risk grades.

Treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus

It is recommended you undergo an upper endoscopy procedure with biopsies on a regular basis for the remainder of your lifetime. The frequency of your routine surveillance endoscopies depends on the grade of your Barrett’s Esophagus diagnosis.

Minimally invasive treatments can oftentimes be utilized if diseased tissue is discovered. These outpatient procedures usually take less than 30 minutes and require no incisions. Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA) utilizes a quick burst of energy to eliminate diseased tissue, while Endoscopic Mucosal Resection (EMR) employs endoscopic equipment to extract diseased tissue.

Learn more about Barrett’s Esophagus by viewing the video below.

For more information, speak with your gastroenterologist. If you do not have a gastroenterologist, click here to learn more.

Topics and Subtopics: Digestive Disorders

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