Barrett's esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition that affects the lining of the esophagus, the swallowing tube that carries foods and liquids from the mouth to the stomach.
Barrett's esophagus is a complication of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a disorder in which stomach acid and enzymes cause injury to the esophageal lining and create symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation and chest pain. In some GERD patients, esophagus cells transform into intestinal tissue in a process called "intestinal metaplasia" or Barrett's esophagus.
There are three "grades," or types of Barrett's esophagus:
- Intestinal metaplasia (IM) without dysplasia
- IM with low-grade dysplasia
- IM with high-grade dysplasia
"Dysplasia" refers to abnormalities of a tissue that make it more cancer-like. While the presence of dysplasia may raise the risk of cancer, it is not considered cancer.
Risk factors for developing Barrett's esophagus include:
- Male sex
- Caucasian ethnicity
- GERD symptoms of longer than 10 years
If you have GERD symptoms more than three times per week, consult your physician. It is estimated that 13 percent of the people who have chronic acid reflux also have Barrett's esophagus. In addition, individuals with Barrett's esophagus have a 40 to 130 times higher incidence of developing esophageal cancer than those without the condition.