Barrett’s esophagus has less cancer risk than thought

 
By Tom Nordlie • Published: September 6th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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Norman Barrett isn’t a name that many people recognize.

But there’s a well-known condition named for this Australian-born surgeon — Barrett’s esophagus.

It refers to abnormal cell growth at the bottom of the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach.

The condition occurs when stomach acid chronically splashes up into the esophagus.

Symptoms include heartburn, painful swallowing and vomiting blood.

That’s bad enough, but the big concern is that Barrett’s esophagus can be a precursor to esophageal [eh-soff-uh-JEE-ull] cancer, which is frequently fatal.

Just how often this condition leads to cancer is a subject of debate, though.

Previous studies have suggested that about 3 percent of patients with Barrett’s esophagus will get esophageal cancer every year.

But a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute indicates that the risk may be lower.

The study involved more than eighty-five hundred adults in Ireland, who’d been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus. Researchers tracked them an average of seven years.

Only seventy-nine developed esophageal cancer.

That means less than 1 percent of patients developed the disease each year.

That’s great news, but the researchers had some cautions.

One is, men with Barrett’s esophagus are more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.

Another is, the parameters for this study were quite strict, and that may account for the lower incidence of cancer compared with previous studies.

In any event, Barrett’s esophagus is a serious condition that deserves close attention.

So if you’re suffering from chronic heartburn or difficulty swallowing, see your doctor immediately.

Norman Barrett would have wanted it that way, and your family surely will, too.