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Esophageal Cancer Risk Less Dire for Certain Patients: Study
Date:10/12/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- The risk of developing deadly esophageal cancer for patients with a condition known as Barrett's esophagus is significant, but not as dire as once reported, a large new Danish study suggests.

Analyzing records from Denmark's entire population of 5.4 million people, researchers determined that 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, a substantial drop from the 30- or 40-factor increase reported in prior research.

This particularly lethal form of cancer, which grew in prevalence in the United States six-fold between 1975 and 2001, occurs more often in older white men and has risk factors that include obesity and frequent heartburn. Patients with Barrett's esophagus, which sometimes produces abnormal cells, are typically monitored with frequent endoscopies, tests in which thin tubes with cameras are inserted into the esophagus and stomach to detect changes in cells lining the organs.

Study author Dr. Peter Funch-Jensen, a professor of surgery at Hamlet Hospital and Clinical Institute at the University of Aarhus, said the results indicate that Barrett's esophagus patients can probably undergo fewer invasive endoscopies. Patients with low- or high-grade cell dysplasia -- abnormal cells that are often a pre-cursor to cancer -- remain at much higher risk, however.

"The clinical implication is that patients with Barrett (without dysplasia) should probably only be investigated [with endoscope] the first year and hereafter no further endoscopy is necessary, unless new symptoms appear," Funch-Jensen said. "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
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