How is GERD Related to Esophageal Cancer?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, abbreviated as GERD, is a common condition that involves stomach acid frequently flowing up into the esophagus. GERD can also cause other related conditions, such as Barrett’s esophagus, which is a condition that results in healthy esophageal tissue to become damaged to the point where it more closely resembles tissue of the intestine.

More on Barrett’s Esophagus Esophageal Cancer

Barrett’s esophagus is essentially a complication of GERD that occurs as GERD symptoms become progressively worse. Barrett’s esophagus is most likely to develop in individuals who either experience GERD beginning at a young age or those who have had a longer duration of its symptoms.

It is estimated that between 10-15% of patients with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Chronic Heartburn
  • Chest Pain
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Nausea

Risk Factors

These two gastroenterological conditions each have a unique link to a type of esophageal cancer known as adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cases of this form of esophageal cancer are increasing in frequency, and they pose a heightened amount of risk to patients who:

  • Are Caucasian
  • Have been diagnosed with GERD

Dysplasia

The changes in the esophagus that occur for those with Barrett’s esophagus result in a type of tissue known as Barrett’s tissue. Within this new type of tissue, there is a possibility for the formation of dysplasia, which is a precancerous condition.

In order to diagnose dysplasia, your doctor will need to perform a biopsy of Barrett’s tissue. This tissue is then examined to determine the category of dysplasia it qualifies as, which can consist of:

  • High-Grade
  • Low-Grade
  • Indefinite

Recommended Screenings

It is not common for patients with Barrett’s esophagus to develop esophageal cancer, but it is advised to receive regular endoscopies in order to keep your esophageal health in check.

The frequency of these endoscopies will depend on whether or not the individual has dysplasia, so it is best to discuss these factors with your gastroenterologist when deciding on the best course of treatment.

Sources:

https://www.asge.org/home/for-patients/patient-information/understanding-gerd-barrett-39-s
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940