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Complications of Untreated Heartburn and GERD

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Does Barrett's Esophagus Cause Cancer?

Barrett's esophagus may lead to the development of a type of esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma) in some people. Less than 1% of people with Barrett's esophagus will develop esophageal adenocarcinoma each year. Because of the cancer risk, people with Barrett's esophagus need regular checkups of the esophagus.

What Are Strictures of the Esophagus?

Sometimes, the damaged lining of the esophagus becomes scarred, causing narrowing of the esophagus, called strictures. These strictures can interfere with eating and drinking by preventing food and liquid from reaching the stomach. Strictures are treated by dilation, in which an instrument gently stretches the strictures and expands the narrowing in the esophagus.

What Is Esophageal Cancer?

Cancer of the esophagus is a disease in which cancer is found in the tissues of the esophagus. This cancer is more common in men and in people 65 years old and older.

The risk factors for esophageal cancer include GERD, Barrett's esophagus, cigarette smoking, and drinking alcohol. The risk increases with greater use of cigarettes or alcohol. Being overweight or obese is another risk factor. Lower risk for esophageal cancer has been linked to a having a diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits.

Cancer that begins in the esophagus is divided into two main types:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer begins in the squamous cells that line the esophagus. This cancer can affect any part of the esophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma. This type of cancer develops in gland cells and is usually found in the lower part of the esophagus. Gland cells are not normally found in the esophagus. When gland cells occur in the esophagus, it's usually due to acid reflux or Barrett's esophagus.

What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer in its early stages often has no symptoms. Difficulty swallowing and weight loss are the most common symptoms of esophageal cancer. As the cancer grows, it narrows the opening of the esophagus, making swallowing difficult and/or painful.

WebMD Medical Reference

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