Esophageal cancer is deadly and the risk is significant for patients with a condition known as Barrett's esophagus; however it is not as dire as previously reported, a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Those with Barrett's esophagus, a disorder often brought on by chronic reflux are about 11 times as likely as those without it to develop esophageal cancer, researchers found. This is a substantial drop from the 30- or 40-factor increase reported in previous research.
This type of cancer became more common in the United States between 1975 and 2001. Barrett’s esophagus is more prevalent in older white men and its’ risk factors include obesity and frequent heartburn, according to WebMD.
Findings demonstrate Barrett's esophagus patients can most likely undergo fewer invasive endoscopies, tests in which thin tubes with cameras are placed in into the esophagus and stomach to identify changes in cells coating the organs. However, patients with low- or high-grade cell dysplasia -abnormal cells that are often a pre-cursor to cancer -- remain at much higher risk, said Dr. Peter Funch-Jensen, a professor of surgery at Hamlet Hospital and Clinical Institute at the University of Aarhus and study author, HealthDay News reports.
After analyzing records from the Danish Pathology Registry and the Danish Cancer Registry from 1992 through 2009, Funch-Jensen and his team discovered approximately 11,000 patients with Barrett's esophagus and examined their data for an average of five years.
"Esophageal cancer has increased in incidence during the last years ... if it increases very much further, the situation may change. Also, it is a possibility that we will discover other risk factors that will pinpoint a subset of patients that may benefit from surveillance." Funch-Jensen said, according to HealthDay News.
Researchers noted that although those with the condition were found to have a much higher chance of developing esophageal cancer compared to the general population, only 0.12 percent go on to develop it annually, which is significantly lower than the estimated risk of 0.5 percent.
Among the 197 reported cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed as Barrett's esophagus represented only 7.6 percent of all such cases. During the same period, 2,602 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed in the general population, the study found.
Dr. Anthony Starpoli, a gastroenterologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, explains that further studies must be conducted in order to alter medical policies.
"I don't think based on this one study alone, we can actually make policy changes and certain societal recommendations about screening," said Starpoli, HealthDay News reports. "For me, what this does is let me tell the patient, 'I think you have a little less to worry about.' I think we can reassure our patients to allay the fear."