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Learning About Treatments for Barrett's Esophagus With Dysplasia

What is Barrett's esophagus?

The esophagus is the tube that carries food and liquid to your stomach. Barrett's esophagus, or Barrett's syndrome, is a condition in which the cells that line the esophagus start to change. They start to look like the cells that line the stomach and intestines.

When you have Barrett's, you are slightly more likely to get cancer of the esophagus. So regular testing is important, even if you don't have symptoms. It helps your doctor watch for signs of more changes that may lead to cancer.

If tests show that the cells continue to change and could become cancer, that change is called dysplasia.

How is Barrett's esophagus treated?

Treatment for Barrett's depends on whether the cells in the esophagus lining have changed (dysplasia).

If you don't have dysplasia, there is no specific treatment. But taking GERD medicines can help lower your risk of getting esophageal cancer.

If dysplasia is found, your doctor may do a procedure to remove or destroy the changed cells.

During the procedure, you will get medicines through a needle in a vein (I.V.) in your arm or hand. These medicines reduce pain. They will make you feel relaxed and drowsy. Your throat will also be numbed. You may not remember much about the procedure.

There are a few ways to remove or destroy the changed cells. You may have:

Radiofrequency (RF) ablation.

The doctor uses heat to destroy the cells.

Cryosurgery (also called cryotherapy).

It destroys cells by freezing them. Liquid nitrogen is most often used.

Endoscopic resectioning.

Your doctor cuts the damaged tissue from your esophagus. This is done through a small tube, called an endoscope.

You may also need surgery to remove part of the esophagus. Your doctor will recommend the best treatment based on your test results.

What can you expect after treatment?

After most treatments, you will be observed for 1 to 2 hours until the medicines wear off. Don't eat or drink until feeling returns to your throat. When you recover, you can go home.

After radiofrequency (RF) treatment, your esophagus may feel tight or narrow when you swallow. You may have some chest pain.

If you had cryotherapy, you may feel some discomfort in your neck and chest. Your esophagus may feel tight or narrow when you swallow.

If you had surgery, you will stay in the hospital and will take longer to recover.

You may still need to treat the symptoms of gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). Your doctor may give you information about that.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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