Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the cells that normally line the lower portion of the esophagus are replaced by tissue that is usually found lower in the intestine. This process, called metaplasia, is believed in some part to occur as a result of chronic reflux of stomach acid back into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD). Overtime, this chronic regurgitation causes damage to the normal esophageal lining. In the body’s attempt to heal and protect, it grows different cells thus leading to Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus itself usually causes no symptoms. It is diagnosed when a gastroenterologist performs an endoscopy on a patient to further evaluate symptoms such as chronic reflux, heartburn, or even difficulty swallowing. If your healthcare provider identifies tissue that appears abnormal, he or she will take samples to help determine if Barrett’s esophagus is present. The significance of having Barrett’s is that it is associated with a much higher risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma. Fortunately, even those who have Barrett’s esophagus have a very low risk (less than 0.5% of patients per year) of developing esophageal cancer.
Unfortunately, at the present time, there is no reliable way to determine which patients with Barrett’s esophagus may go on to develop esophageal cancer. It is fairly typical for a healthcare provider to recommend those who have Barrett’s to undergo surveillance of this condition with endoscopy at regular intervals. This may help to identify tissue that is dysplastic (pre-malignant).
Although commonly recommended to patients with Barrett’s esophagus, the use of antacids has not been shown to prevent the development of cancer. Treatment for people with Barrett’s esophagus and dysplasia is individualized and can vary from surgery or endoscopic resection to using photosensitizers (PDT) and radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
In 2005, the HALO System was approved for use by the FDA for the ablation of Barrett’s esophagus in those select patients who have developed dysplasia. This system uses radiofrequency to destroy Barrett’s tissue that has been previously identified during endoscopy. Even though radiofrequency has been used for many years for the treatment of Barrett’s, there has been no reliable method that was safe, effective and easy for both patients and their physicians until the development of the HALO System.
In an outpatient setting, the HALO System is used during endoscopy to destroy the Barrett’s tissue with minimal risk. It has been studied extensively in both the United States and Europe and has been shown in some studies to be over 98% effective in eliminating dysplastic tissue (pre-malignant cells).
Recent studies estimate that well over 3 million Americans over 50 years of age suffer from Barrett’s esophagus. If you have Barrett’s esophagus, speak to your Gastro Health physician to see if you may be a good candidate for the HALO System.