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Patient Question

What is Barrett's Esophagus?



Assistant Professor of Medicine



Assistant Professor of Medicine
Expert Answer

You may never have heard of Barrett's esophagus, but if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you're at risk, and may want to learn about the condition. Barrett's esophagus is a premalignant condition that occurs when the cells of the esophagus are replaced by precancerous cells. It doesn't mean you have cancer, but you could develop it over time. Esophageal cancer is difficult to treat and carries a poor outcome and a greatly compromised quality of life, so preventing it is key, which is exactly what a new procedure at Stony Brook University Medical Center called radiofrequency ablation can do.

Performed on an outpatient basis, this minimally invasive procedure uses highly targeted heat energy to irradiate and eliminate the precancerous tissue in the esophagus. Studies show that this treatment completely eliminates the precancerous tissue associated with Barrett's in 98.4 percent of patients, and that it remains effective for at least five years - the "magic number" when it comes to being declared cancer-free.

Stony Brook is currently the only hospital in Suffolk County to offer this treatment, thanks to the recruitment last year of Satish Nagula, MD , and Gina Sam, MD, MPH, to the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. Each have advanced training and experience in the procedure. "This is a procedure with no significant drawbacks, " says Dr. Nagula. "It is safe and effective with no side effects other than a small bit of discomfort in the chest that disappears after a few days. Most important, it really does eliminate the precancerous cells."

Adds Dr. Sam, "Nearly everyone with the condition is eligible for the procedure. It's that safe. As with everything we do, though, we take an individualized approach with each patient."

The Reflux Index

People who have GERD - in particular Caucasian males over age 40 - are at high risk for developing Barrett's esophagus. Here are the symptoms to watch for:
  • Burning sensation after eating certain foods
  • Sour taste in mouth
  • Excessive burping
  • Chest pressure or chest pain
  • Burning sensation in stomach or chest

Barrett's esophagus has no symptoms. It is usually discovered only during an endoscopic evaluation of long-term reflux. At Stony Brook, evaluations take place in the Endoscopy Center, which has been recognized by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) for promoting quality and safety in endoscopy.

Esophageal cancer rates are growing rapidly, and the number one risk factor is long-term reflux. If you've had reflux for six months or more, check with your physician, who can refer you to a gastroenter ologist or Stony Brook's endoscopy program for evaluation.

For Additional Information Contact (631) 444-4000

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