If you are one of the millions of adults who suffer from chronic acid reflux, you may be at risk for developing Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition of the esophagus. It is estimated that Barrett’s Esophagus is found in 5-15%* percent of adults with chronic reflux who undergo screening. April is esophageal cancer awareness month and Dr. Kavitha Kumbum, a gastroenterologist practicing at UT Health Austin spoke with KXAN so viewers could understand what is Barrett’s Esophagus and what they can do about it.
What is Barrett’s Esophagus (BE)? Why is it important to diagnose early?
Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which cells lining the esophagus have changed into types of intestinal cells that are not normal and increase risk of cancer of the esophagus. Population studies have shown that there has been a rise in the incidence of esophageal cancer since the 1970s. For this reason it is important to understand who is at risk for this and what can be done to prevent progression to cancer.
How can someone recognize the symptoms?
Unfortunately, Barrett’s esophagus does not cause symptoms that you can feel. It is found through upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and biopsy. We don’t know exactly why some develop this condition, but we do know some things increase the risk of this condition. Men are more likely than women, particularly Caucasian men, to develop BE. Acid reflux increases the risk by 5-10 %. Obesity, smoking, family history of Barrett’s Esophagus or esophageal cancer are also risk factors.
What screenings can be done to diagnose Barrett’s Esophagus? Or is there anything an individual can do to help avoid BE?
It is important to know your risk factors for Barrett’s first.
You are at risk if you have:
- History of heart heartburn or acid reflux for more than 5 years, or
- If you have uncontrolled acid reflux.
The only way to find out if you have Barrett’s esophagus is with an endoscopy and a biopsy to look at the tissue of your esophagus under the microscope. Things that can lessen your risk: working with your gastroenterologist to reduce acid reflux. Eating a lot of veggies and fruits.
When and with whom should you seek medical care if you think you may have Barrett’s esophagus?
If you have acid reflux particularly uncontrolled symptoms or have been on medication for many years, you should speak to your gastroenterologist (GI) about this and having an endoscopy. You can also speak to your primary care provider to help obtain a referral to see a GI specialist if you do not have a gastroenterologist already. To learn more about the Heartburn and Esophageal Disorders clinical practice within Digestive Health, the clinical partnership between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton, visit here.