Among Barrett’s Esophagus Patients, Smoking Increases Risk for Esophageal Cancer

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Smoking tobacco is known increase the risk of cancer of the throat, mouth, esophagus and lungs. The tar, nicotine and chemicals in tobacco cause damage to the cells that is known to predispose these cells to cancer.

For patients who have Barrett’s esophagus, the cells of the lower portion of the esophagus show abnormal changes. These changes are commonly found as a result of stomach acid that is backing up into the esophagus. In certain cases these damaged cells, also known as dysplasia become precancerous and are then at greater risk of turning into esophageal cancer. Dysplasia is classified as low and high grade. In low grade dysplasia there are small changes in the cells and in high grade dysplasia the precancerous cells display many changes that are likely to develop into cancer. For many patients with Barrett’s esophagus, the chances of these cells turning into cancer are quite low, as long as there are no other risk factors.

Smoking doubles the chance of these precancerous cells developing into esophageal cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus. This heightened risk is present in current smokers irrespective of the amount of tobacco smoked.

Smoking cessation should be stressed in Barrett’s esophagus patients in order to eliminate this increased risk factor for cancer. If smoking cessation cannot be accomplished, regular and continued examination of the esophagus must be done in order to monitor the status of the dysplasia. Prior to undergoing treatment for Barrett’s esophagus or for frequent heartburn in Georgia, your physician may first ask you to stop smoking.

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