Barrett's Esophagus Treatment

Dr. Jones will discuss treatment options for Barrett’s esophagus based on the person’s overall health, whether dysplasia is present, and, if so, the severity of the dysplasia. Treatment options include medication, endoscopic ablative therapies, endoscopic mucosal resection, and surgery.

People with Barrett’s esophagus who have GERD are treated with acid-suppressing medications, called proton pump inhibitors. These medications are used to prevent further damage to the esophagus and, in some cases, heal existing damage. Proton pump inhibitors include omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid), lansoprazole (Prevacid), pantoprazole (Protonix), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and esomeprazole (Nexium), which are available by prescription. Omeprazole and lansoprazole are also available in over-the-counter strength. Anti-reflux surgery may be considered for people with GERD symptoms who do not respond to medications. However, medications or surgery for GERD and Barrett’s esophagus have not been shown to lower a person’s risk of dysplasia or esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Endoscopic ablative therapies
Endoscopic ablative therapies use different techniques to destroy the dysplastic cells in the esophagus. The body should then begin making normal esophageal cells. Local anesthesia and a sedative are used. The procedures most often used are photodynamic therapy and radiofrequency ablation.

  • Photodynamic therapy. Photodynamic therapy uses a light-activated chemical called porfimer (Photofrin), an endoscope, and a laser to kill precancerous cells in the esophagus. When porfimer is exposed to laser light, it produces a form of oxygen that kills nearby cells. Porfimer is injected into a vein, and the person returns 24 to 72 hours later to complete the procedure. The laser light passes through the endoscope and activates the porfimer to destroy Barrett’s tissue in the esophagus. Complications of photodynamic therapy include sensitivity of the skin and eyes to light for about 6 weeks after the procedure; burns, swelling, pain, and scarring in nearby healthy tissue; and coughing, trouble swallowing, stomach pain, painful breathing, and shortness of breath.
  • Radiofrequency ablation. Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves to kill precancerous and cancerous cells. An electrode mounted on a balloon or endoscope delivers heat energy to the Barrett’s tissue. Complications include chest pain, cuts in the mucosal layer of the esophagus, and strictures—narrowing of the esophagus. Clinical trials have shown a lower incidence of side effects for radiofrequency ablation compared with photodynamic therapy.

Endoscopic mucosal resection
Endoscopic mucosal resection involves lifting the Barrett’s lining and injecting a solution underneath or applying suction to the lining and then cutting the lining off. The lining is then removed with an endoscope. If endoscopic mucosal resection is used to treat cancer, an endoscopic ultrasound is done first to make sure the cancer involves only the top layer of esophageal cells. Ultrasound uses a device, called a transducer, that bounces safe, painless sound waves off organs to create an image of their structure.

Complications can include bleeding or tearing of the esophagus. Endoscopic mucosal resection is sometimes used in combination with photodynamic therapy.

Surgery for Barrett’s esophagus is an alternative. Esophagectomy is surgical removal of the affected sections of the esophagus. After removal, the esophagus is rebuilt from part of the stomach or large intestine. The patient stays in the hospital for 7 to 14 days after the surgery to recover. Surgery may not be an option for people with Barrett’s esophagus who have other medical problems. For these people, the less-invasive endoscopic treatments or continued intensive surveillance would be considered.

Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
People can make dietary changes to lower their risk of Barrett’s esophagus. A high intake of fruits, vegetables, and vitamins may help prevent the disease. In addition, for people who are overweight, losing weight may reduce their risk. People should talk with their health care provider about dietary changes that can help prevent Barrett’s esophagus.