Because Barrett’s esophagus does not cause any symptoms, many physicians recommend that adults older than 40 who have had GERD for a number of years undergo an endoscopy and biopsies to check for the condition.
Barrett’s esophagus can only be diagnosed using an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy to obtain biopsies of the esophagus. In an upper GI endoscopy, after the patient is sedated, the doctor inserts a flexible tube called an endoscope, which has a light and a miniature camera, into the esophagus. If the tissue appears suspicious, the doctor removes several small pieces using a pincher-like device that is passed through the endoscope. A pathologist examines the tissue with a microscope to determine the diagnosis.
Periodic endoscopic examinations with biopsies to look for early warning signs of cancer are generally recommended for people who have Barrett’s esophagus. This approach is called surveillance.
Typically, before esophageal cancer develops, precancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue. This condition is called dysplasia and can be seen only through biopsies. Multiple biopsies must be taken because dysplasia can be missed in a single biopsy. Detecting and treating dysplasia may prevent cancer from developing.
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