Few people have heard of Barrett’s Syndrome because it is not that common of a condition, but for those who have it, it can be a serious problem. Barrett’s Syndrome is a condition that affects the esophagus, the tube that carries the food from your mouth to your stomach. Barrett’s Syndrome takes the cells that form in your esophagus and actually transform them so that they’re more like the cells in your intestines. While this is really the only symptom that occurs, the condition can become quite serious because it can lead to a type of cancer of the esophagus called esophageal adenocarcinoma.
While anyone can actually develop esophageal adenocarcinoma, it is 30 to 125 times more likely for people who have Barrett’s Syndrome to develop it. It is most likely to develop in white men, and there are several different conditions that may increase a person’s chance of developing this cancer. They include obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Fortunately, there is a less than one percent chance of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.
What exactly causes Barrett’s Syndrome? At this stage, no one is really certain. Research continues to be done into the syndrome. Some believe that the change in the cells of the esophagus is a protective measure against GERD. As the cells are exposed and damaged more and more due to the stomach acid, the theory is that they change to protect the esophagus. However, this theory hasn’t been proven yet. All that is known for certain is that age, gender, weight, and a history of GERD can all affect Barrett’s Syndrome.
Even these factors, however, may not always play a part in Barrett’s Syndrome. Some people may have Barrett’s Syndrome and not have GERD. However, it has been shown that those with GERD are three to five times more likely to have Barrett’s Syndrome. When it comes to age, generally Barrett’s Syndrome is diagnosed around age 60, but that is generally not when the syndrome first begins. It is quite difficult to determine at what age Barrett’s Syndrome first starts.
As mentioned above, it is nearly impossible to diagnose Barrett’s Syndrome because there are no symptoms until the cancer shows up. No physical exam or blood test shows Barrett’s Syndrome. The only way to be certain if you have it or not is to do a biopsy of esophagus tissue and an upper endoscopy, which involves putting a small tube down the throat that has a small camera on the end. Of course, there’s no reason for a doctor to order these tests unless he or she suspects you have esophageal adenocarcinoma, and by the time that becomes a concern, the cancer is in an advanced stage. It is also very expensive to perform the required tests, so few people have them done, although doctors do recommend that those with GERD have an endoscopy done at age 40.
The problem with this type of cancer is that there is currently no cure for it. One of the biggest reasons for this is because the cancer is often detected very late in its development. Even if it is found at an early stage, there are no real treatment options. While the cancer itself is very rare, it is also, unfortunately, often terminal. There are some treatment options, including surgery and GERD medication, but unless the cancer is detected early, these treatment options may not be very effective. In some cases, surgery can be done to remove the cancerous parts of the esophagus, but this is a very major surgery that is very rarely done except in the most serious of cases.
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