Overview

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the intestinal lining. This process is called intestinal metaplasia. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at increased risk for a rare type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The exact cause of Barrett’s esophagus is unknown, but gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a risk factor for the condition. The average age at diagnosis is 55. Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men are affected more frequently than men of other races. It is uncommon in children.

Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed with an upper G.I. endoscopy and biopsy. The test may show changes in the esophageal lining. Dr. Carl Jones will perform a biopsy with the endoscope by taking a small piece of tissue from the esophageal lining. A pathologist will examine the tissue to determine whether Barrett’s esophagus cells are present.

Barrett’s esophagus is often diagnosed when a person has an upper G.I. endoscopy for GERD symptoms. Some health care providers may recommend that people with multiple risk factors for Barrett’s esophagus be tested.

Barrett’s esophagus can be difficult to diagnose because not all tissue in the esophagus is affected. The gastroenterologist takes biopsy samples from at least eight different areas of the esophageal lining, but may not take the samples from the part of the esophagus with cells showing the condition. Barrett’s tissue does not look different from normal tissue when viewed through the endoscope. The difference can only be seen with a microscope. Researchers are working on improved methods for diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus.