Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which normal cells lining the esophagus – the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach – are replaced by abnormal cells similar to those in the stomach.
USA Gastroenterologist Dr. Reynaldo Rodriguez, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, said Barrett’s esophagus is usually caused by repeated exposure of stomach acid to the esophagus. It is most often diagnosed in people who have long-term gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which the stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus does not have any specific symptoms. However, patients with Barrett's esophagus may have symptoms related to GERD, including heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest or throat. Barrett’s esophagus is often diagnosed when a patient has an upper GI endoscopy – a procedure that examines your esophagus -- for GERD symptoms.
According to Dr. Rodriguez, Barrett’s esophagus has a strong association with esophageal adenocarcinoma, a cancer with a high mortality rate that is rapidly rising in prevalence in the United States. “Individuals who have been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus have a higher risk – about 30 to 100 times greater – of developing esophageal cancer than the general population,” he said.
With this in mind, Dr. Rodriguez recommends consulting a physician if you have frequent or long-standing acid reflux symptoms to ensure that the reflux is not damaging your esophagus. “Early detection is crucial,” he said. “It can delay or prevent the progression to esophageal cancer and also allows detection of cancer at an earlier stage when treatment is most effective,” he said.
Barrett’s esophagus is more common in Caucasian men over the age of 50. Individuals who are smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers also have a higher risk of developing the condition.
USA was the first institution in the world to offer the NvisionVLE™ Imaging System since it garnered approval from the Federal Drug Administration in 2013. The imaging system, available at USA Medical Center, enables physicians to view real-time, cross-sectional images of organs and tissues using laser imaging technology.
According to Rodriguez, the largest clinical application of this new technology will be for patients with GERD and Barrett’s esophagus. “This technology is similar to combining a microscope with an endoscope,” Dr. Rodriguez said. “With previous imaging technology, the endoscopy probed only the surface-level tissues. Using this system, tissue can be examined up to three millimeters deep, giving us the ability to diagnose without surgical biopsy.”
If Barrett’s esophagus is found, the patient is often treated with radio frequency ablation (RFA), in which the affected tissues are burned and removed to lower the pre-malignant risk. Other treatment options include photodynamic therapy (PDT) and endoscopic mucosa resection (EMR).
Once diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, it's important to get re-evaluated every two to three years, according to Dr. Rodriguez. With routine examination, your physician can discover precancerous and cancer cells early, before they spread and when the disease is easier to treat.
USA gastroenterology is the only group in the region that has the NvisionVLE™ Imaging System technology and that performs Radio Frequency Ablation (RFA) for Barrett’s esophagus.
For more information or to refer a patient, contact (251) 660-5555.