Home » Oncology » Barrett’s oesophagus can progress into oesophageal cancer if not managed

Christine Littlefield

CEO, Oesophageal Cancer Fund

A small number of people (less than 1%) with Barrett’s oesophagus can develop oesophageal cancer. Therefore, this condition must be regularly monitored to ensure cancer prevention. 

The National Barrett’s Oesophagus Registry and Biobank were established in 2009 to meet the Oesophageal Cancer Fund’s aim of preventing Oesophageal Cancer through early detection.  

Barrett’s oesophagus can pose cancer risk 

Barrett’s oesophagus is a condition that is caused when persistent or long-term acid reflux (heartburn) damages the inner lining of the oesophagus (food pipe). Over time, because of this damage, the normal cells that line the oesophagus can become abnormal. Although the condition itself is not cancerous, it is known as a pre-cancerous precursor — meaning the risk of developing oesophageal cancer is slightly higher.  

Since 2009, over 9,000 patients have been recorded on the National Barrett’s Registry in Ireland. The Registry helps medical professionals identify at-risk patients earlier and regularly track their progress using endoscopies and bioscopies.  

Learn more about the symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer.

Early, effective treatment following diagnosis 

Cellular changes such as dysplasia and or cancer can be diagnosed and treated much earlier. The data manager records and monitors a range of follow-up data for all Registry patients across the six hospital sites.  

Barrett’s patients who show progression in their disease are offered radiofrequency ablation (RFA) therapy — a highly effective HALO procedure that destroys diseased tissue and allows healthy, new tissue to regenerate.  

Cellular changes such as dysplasia and or cancer
can be diagnosed and treated much earlier.

Oesophageal cancer research using samples 

The National Barrett’s Biobank operates in tandem with the Barrett’s Registry. Tissue and blood samples from consenting Barrett’s patients are collected, stored and used for vital patient-focused research that is helping medical professionals to better understand what factors drive the progression to oesophageal cancer.  

To date, the Oesophageal Cancer Fund has provided over €2 million in funding towards the National Barrett’s Registry and biobank, linking six national hospitals — St. James’s, St. Vincent’s, Beaumont, Mater Misericordiae, Dublin, Mercy Hospital Cork and University Hospital Galway. Since 2020, the Oesophageal Cancer Fund has co-funded — with Science Foundation Ireland — the National Barrett’s Registry and Biobank.  

Getting help if experiencing symptoms  

If you’re experiencing the main symptom of Barrett’s oesophagus, which is persistent acid reflux (heartburn), over a long time or notice yourself constantly reaching for heartburn medication, then consult your GP. Symptoms may also include regurgitation; nausea and pain in the upper abdomen; chronic sore throat.  

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