Study Links Genetic Diversity, Barrett's and Cancer Risk

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Barrett’s esophagus (BE) is a disease in which the tissue of the esophagus changes into tissue similar to that in the intestines, with the tissue changes often caused by acid reflux disease. In some cases, Barrett’s esophagus will have no symptoms at all, while for those with associated acid reflux, symptoms can be quite painful.

Barrett’s esophagus affects 200,000 American each year, and develops into esophageal cancer in less than five percent of those patients. Determining which patients are more likely to develop cancer is important not only because it can help to catch cancers early, but because it might also prevent excessively monitoring (usually through the use of an endoscopic procedure) those patients with very little likelihood of developing cancer.

New methods using gene diversity may prove better at predicting who will go on to develop cancer. Researchers at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute published their new predictive tool in the article, “Dynamic clonal equilibrium and predetermined cancer risk in Barrett’s oesophagus,” in the August 2016 volume of Nature Communications.

Cell samples brushed from the esophageal lining of 320 patients with Barrett’s were studied for genetic diversity. Researchers found that in most cases the genetic diversity of BE cells do not tend to change over time. Barrett's lesions with genetic diversity above a given threshold went on to develop into esophageal cancer.

While more studies are needed, if proven accurate this new method of surveillance for patients with Barrett’s could help to provide for early treatment and eliminate unneeded surveillance for patients with little or no risk for cancer. Eliminating unneeded surveillance could also decrease health care costs for Barrett’s patients who would otherwise have to undergo frequent esophageal scopes to monitor their disease.

Jennifer has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. She has a bachelor's degree in dietetics and has done as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.Jennifer also serves on the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.