Treatment for Barrett's Esophagus
Periodic examinations with an upper endoscopy to look for early warning signs of cancer are generally recommended for people who have Barrett's esophagus. This approach is called surveillance.
When people who have Barrett's esophagus develop cancer, the process seems to go through an intermediate stage in which cancer cells appear in the Barrett's tissue. This condition is called dysplasia and can be seen only in biopsies with a microscope. The process is patchy and cannot be seen directly through the endoscope, so multiple biopsies must be taken. Even then, the cancer cells can be missed.
The process of change from Barrett's to cancer seems to happen in only a few patients (less than 1 percent per year) and over a relatively long period of time. Most physicians recommend that patients with Barrett's esophagus undergo periodic surveillance endoscopy to have biopsies. The recommended interval between endoscopies varies depending on specific circumstances, and the ideal interval has not been determined.
If a person with Barrett's esophagus is found to have dysplasia or cancer, the doctor will usually recommend surgery if the person is strong enough and has a good chance of being cured. The type of surgery may vary, but it usually involves removing most of the esophagus and pulling the stomach up into the chest to attach it to what remains of the esophagus.
Many patients with Barrett's esophagus are elderly and have many other medical problems that make surgery unwise; in these patients, other approaches to treating dysplasia are being investigated.