Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Barrett's Esophagus

The cause of Barrett's esophagus is not fully understood, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a risk factor for the condition. While some people without GERD do get Barrett's esophagus, it is three to five times more likely to occur in people who also have GERD.

Less than 1 percent of people diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus will develop esophageal cancer. A patient may have Barrett's esophagus for several years before developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.

If you have GERD or Barrett's esophagus, your physician may advocate periodic examinations with biopsies taken to look for any early warning signs of cancer. Usually, precancerous cells will appear in the tissue before esophageal cancer develops. This condition is known as dysplasia and is revealed through biopsies of esophageal tissue.

Early detection and treatment of dysplasia may help prevent the development of esophageal cancer.

Diagnosing Barrett's esophagus

Barrett's esophagus can only be diagnosed by means of an upper endoscopy to obtain a biopsy of esophageal tissue.

While you are sedated, an endoscope (a tiny, lighted camera on the end of a flexible tube) is inserted into your throat. Forceps (tiny tweezers) may be used to sample esophageal tissue. A pathologist will examine this tissue to determine if the cells are abnormal.