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Barrett's Esophagus: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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Are There Treatments That Specifically Target Barrett's Esophagus?

There are several treatments, including surgery, that are designed specifically to focus on the abnormal tissue. They include:

  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) uses a laser that's inserted into the esophagus with the endoscope to kill abnormal cells in the lining without damaging normal tissue. Before the procedure, the patient takes a drug known as Photofrin, which causes cells to become light-sensitive.
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) lifts the abnormal lining and cuts it off the wall of the esophagus before it's removed through the endoscope. The goal is to remove any precancerous or cancer cells contained in the lining. If cancer cells are present, an ultrasound is done first to be sure the cancer hasn't moved deeper into the esophagus walls.
  • Surgery to remove most of the esophagus is an option in cases where severe precancer (dysplasia) or cancer has been diagnosed. The earlier the surgery is done following the diagnosis, the better the chance for the cure.

It's important to keep several facts in mind:

  • GERD is common among American adults.
  • Only a small percentage of people with GERD (less than one out of every 10) develop Barrett's esophagus.
  • Between 0.1% to 2.0% of those with Barrett's esophagus each year go on to develop esophageal cancer.

A diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus is not a cause for major alarm. Barrett's esophagus, however, can lead to precancerous changes in a small number of people and has an increased risk for cancer.  So, a diagnosis is a reason to work with your doctor to be watchful of your health.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 21, 2013
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