Barrett's esophagus is a precancerous condition that develops when cells in the esophagus become damaged and change from flat-shaped cells into column-shaped cells. Barrett's esophagus also is a risk factor for a cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Barrett's esophagus causes no symptoms but is often preceded by GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is characterized by chronic heartburn caused by reflux of the stomach acid into the esophagus.
In addition to GERD, the risk for this condition is also increased in older adults and white males.
This condition is diagnosed using an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. In this procedure, a thin, flexible tube is inserted into the esophagus via the mouth or nose. Using the endoscope, which is equipped with a light and tiny camera, a physician will examine the esophagus and take a biopsy if the tissue appears suspicious. Patients can return to normal activities the same day.
For patients who are unable to tolerate an upper endoscopy, a capsule endoscopy (camera pill) may be used. When swallowed, the pill travels through the esophagus taking photos, which are transmitted via radiofrequency to a recording device worn around the patient's waist. The pill is later excreted.
Patients who develop cancerous cells or a localized area of high-grade dysplasia (abnormal cells) may benefit from endoscopic mucosal resection. Using an endoscope, a solution is injected under the affected area to lift it and create a cushion between the abnormal cells and the healthy cells underneath. Then, suction is applied to remove the abnormal tissue. Healing usually takes about 4 to 8 weeks. Risks of this procedure include bleeding.