Our gastroenterology department is home to the largest volume of Barrett’s esophagus patients in the region, made up of the most experienced team. In fact, we were the first in the area to offer radiofrequency ablation (RFA) and perform more RFA procedures today than any other area hospital. We were also the first regional site to utilize cryoablation for advanced Barrett’s esophagus, including palliation of esophageal cancer.
Because esophageal cancer has few early warning signs, our experts recommend a screening endoscopy—a minimally invasive test that looks at your upper digestive tract—for all patients with severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), to look for this precancerous condition. If Barrett’s or early esophageal cancer is detected, we offer the most up-to-date endoscopic techniques and technology for diagnosis and treatment, including access to clinical trials as appropriate.
What is Barrett’s esophagus?
Many people suffer from gastrointestinal problems, with acid reflux and heartburn topping the list. Not only can frequent flare-ups cause real discomfort, but they can also be the sign of Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus occurs when the sensitive lining of the esophagus—the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach—is damaged by strong stomach acid repeatedly leaking back up into the food pipe. Up to 15 percent of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus but, without an endoscopy, most will never know it. That is because Barrett’s has no definitive symptoms in its early stages, when detection is most helpful. Rather, people with the condition often describe it as routine heartburn.
Sometimes, Barrett’s rogue cells continue to mutate, eventually turning into dysplasia—a precursor to esophageal adenocarcinoma (cancer). But with early detection, diligent monitoring, and appropriate interventions, those mutant cells can often be transformed back to normal, stopping the development of cancer for the majority of Barrett’s patients.
About esophageal cancer
Esophageal cancer is rare, with only about 17,000 new cases predicted annually. However, it is often deadly, in part because its main symptoms—painful or difficult swallowing, unexplained weight loss, hoarseness, cough, and indigestion—mostly appear only when the disease is advanced. While there are several causes of esophageal cancer, acid reflux leading to Barrett’s esophagus is the predominant risk factor. Men are four times more likely to develop the disease, which is usually diagnosed at age 50 and older.
Tests and treatments for Barrett's esophagus
As an academic medical center and part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center—the area’s only NCI comprehensive cancer center—the physicians/scientists at MedStar Health actively pursue research studies to advance basic knowledge and, ultimately, improve care. From time to time, patients may be eligible for clinical trials, often gaining access to potential new therapies before others. To see what's currently available and to learn about eligibility criteria, please click here.