When abnormal (or bad) cells develop in the lining of the lower end of the oesophagus, it is not cancer, but a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s Oesophagus. A small number of people (less than 1%) with Barrett’s Oesophagus may go on to develop cancer.
The main cause of Barrett’s Oesophagus is long-term persistent, severe or chronic acid reflux, which can inflame the oesophagus. This may lead to a condition called Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD). Around 1 in 10 people (10%) undergoing an endoscopy for reflux have Barrett’s Oesophagus.
The most common symptoms of Barrett’s Oesophagus are ongoing heartburn and acid indigestion. If you’re experiencing such symptoms, or notice yourself constantly reaching for heartburn medication, then you may have an increased risk of developing Oesophageal Cancer, and should consult your doctor.
Barrett’s Oesophagus is diagnosed by examining the oesophagus using an endoscope. A sample of cells (biopsy) may be taken, and your GP may suggest regular endoscopies to detect pre-cancerous changes to cells in the oesophagus. If pre-cancerous changes (called dysplasia) develop, then treatment to remove or destroy the pre-cancerous cells may be advised.
Lifestyle changes, coupled with certain medications, can help reduce stomach acid, and surgery to strengthen the valve at the lower end of the oesophagus might also be advised.
It’s worth noting that Barrett’s Oesophagus is generally managed without surgery, with treatment focused on reducing reflux, controlling symptoms and most especially, preventing Oesophageal Cancer.
Watch the clip below to learn about The National Barrett’s Oesophagus Registry, set up to monitor and survey patients presenting with Barrett’s Oesophagus.
Apart from the goal of increasing the diagnosis of early cancer, this National Barrett’s Oesophagus Registry will help improve services and information for patients. In accordance with international guidelines, it also allows Consultants to see if changes in the management of patients should be altered.
Through this OCF-funded programme, collaborations have been formed with leading international groups in Barrett’s Oesophagus and Oesophageal Cancer.