September 01, 2021

Barrett's esophagus

Keeping an eye on cancer risk

Barrett's esophagus involves is a change in the cells lining your esophagus that can occur due to on-going acid reflux. This cellular change puts you in a higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, and steps can be taken to manage this risk

Barrett's esophagus

You know to stay away from large meals with fatty foods and alcohol to avoid triggering your acid reflux. You consistently take your prescribed reflux medication. And yet, you still regularly experience painful heartburn.

You've had this reflux for years, and now your doctor says she wants to examine the swallowing tube that connects your mouth to your stomach (esophagus). She's concerned you may have developed Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged and a new, irregular lining forms in its place.

The bad news: If you have Barrett's esophagus, you also have an increased risk of cancer in your esophagus. The good news: The risk is small, and there are ways to monitor and treat the condition to help prevent cancer.

Barrett's esophagus

Stomach acid and contents enter the esophagus, damaging the lining


Why the esophagus changes

The esophagus transports food and drink to the stomach, an acid-filled chamber with thick walls to handle this hostile chemical environment. That's why the muscle valve around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) is closed most of the time. It opens when you swallow to allow food and liquid to enter your stomach. And then it closes again. But if the sphincter valve relaxes when it shouldn't or weakens, corrosive stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus — acid reflux.