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Barretts Oesophagus and the Risk of Cancer | Stop Acid Reflux Now

Barretts Oesophagus and the Risk of Cancer

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Those who have frequent heartburn can develop gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which is the chronic regurgitation of stomach acid into the lower esophagus.  Furthermore, those who feel long-term affects of GERD are at a greater risk of developing another condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.  Barrett’s oesophagus occurs when the color and composition of the cells that line the lower oesophagus change due to the constant exposure to stomach acid.

Although Barrett’s oesophagus is uncommon, as only a very small percentage of people who have GERD develop the condition, those who are diagnosed with Barrett’s oesophagus are at a higher risk of developing oesophageal cancer. 

This form of cancer is very serious as it usually spreads from the oesophagus to the lymph nodes and other organs.  However, just as it is very rare for someone with GERD to develop Barrett’s oesophagus, it is also extremely rare for a person to develop oesophageal cancer from Barrett’s.   In fact, it is estimated that less than 1% of people with Barrett’s are infected with oesophageal cancer.

Signs and symptoms to watch for

• Frequent acid reflux – If you are frequently experiencing episodes of acid reflux, this could be a sign of GERD, which can lead to Barett’s oesophagus.  Acid reflux is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest and/or throat along with foul tasting liquid that enters your mouth from the throat.
• Difficulty swallowing – The oesophagus narrows and makes it hard to swallow, a condition known as dysphasia.
• Bleeding – This may include having black, tarry or bloody stool, or vomiting red blood or blood that has the appearance of coffee grounds.
• Loss of weight and appetite – Sudden weight lose.

Note:  Difficulty swallowing, bleeding and loss of weight and appetite can also be a sign of oesophageal cancer development.

You should seek immediate medical advice if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.  The sooner your condition is diagnosed, the better chance you have of dramatically lowering your risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Your doctor will likely examine your oesophagus through a procedure known as endosocopy (sticking a flexible and lighted tube attached to a small camera down the throat to the stomach).  Those infected with Barrett’s oesophagus will have a salmon colored linging in their lower esophagus instead of the normal pink color.  The metaplasia (change of cellular process) is a result of stomach acid entering the lower oesophagus over a long period of time.

How is Barrett’s oesphagus treated?

Self-care – Self care is about making important life style changes to control GERD.  They include: avoiding foods that trigger heartburn, quitting smoking (if applicable), losing weight, taking antacids or blocking meds to help reduce acid, and elevating the head while sleeping to prevent acid reflux at night.

Medication – The most common drug treatment prescribed by doctors are acid-suppressing medicines such as porton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and histamine receptor blockers (H2 antagonists).  These meds block acid production and alleviate irritated tissue.

Surgery – For those who have present dysplasia (cells undergoing pre-cancerous change), surgery may be required.  The two common surgeries performed are:

1. Anti-reflux surgery – Procedure that prevents acid reflux from occurring by wrapping a portion of the stomach around the lower oesophagus and tightening the sphincter.

2. Oesophagectomy – This involves the complete removal of the oesophagus and moving the stomach into the chest. 

Ablation treatment – These treatments involve the ablation (removal) of dysplasia which may result in the reversal of Barrett’s oesophagus and prevent cancer.  They include: endoscopic mucosal resection, photodynamic therapy, laser therapy, electrocautery, and argon plasma coagulation.

The goal of all treatment is to prevent oesophageal cancer from developing.

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2 Responses

  1. Brett Bryant
    May 4th, 2007 | 2:00 am

    I have Barrett’s and am seeking dietery advise, apart from avoiding the main offenders should one go on a high Protein diet, no carbs? Brett

  2. May 4th, 2007 | 5:45 pm

    There is no specific diet for Barrett’s. Generally the diet be the same as if you where suffering from only GERD.

    There are a couple of posts in this blog that may help which cover diets.

    The only caution I would give about a high protein diet is that they can often be rich in fatty foods - which are best avoided.

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