Barrett’s esophagus is a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, and can sometimes be a precursor for esophageal cancer. The condition occurs when the tissue lining the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach) begins to resemble tissue that lines the intestines as a result of chronic regurgitation of stomach acid into the esophagus.
The condition is surprisingly common. Approximately one in six Americans has reflux symptoms weekly, and about 10 percent of these Americans have Barrett’s esophagus.
“Barrett’s esophagus is considered a pre-cancer, but with careful monitoring and treatment, specialists can help prevent it from turning into cancer,” says Charles Fuchs, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.
Here are five things you should know about Barrett’s esophagus:
What are the symptoms of Barrett’s esophagus?
Because Barrett’s esophagus is often a complication of GERD, many people show symptoms of GERD. These include chronic heartburn, nausea, pain in the chest or upper abdomen, vomiting, problems swallowing, or respiratory problems.
How does Barrett’s esophagus relate to esophageal cancer?
Having Barrett’s esophagus slightly increases your risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the esophagus. If diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, it is important to have regular exams to detect precancerous cells. If the cells are caught early, they can be treated before they spread.