Barrett’s Esophagus: A Genetic Disease?
The common belief is that Barrett’s esophagus is a genetic disease. However, there are many other diseases which have been called “genetic” but actually do not share any genes with each other or humans at all. For example, Huntington’s disease (HD) and Tay Sachs Syndrome (TSS), both have been called “genetic” but they are not. HD is caused by a single gene mutation, while TSS is caused by multiple mutations in different genes.
Barrett’s esophagus, however, is not a genetic disease in the sense that it has nothing to do with human genes. It is caused by infection with a specific bacterium (H. pylori) which has been found in the stomachs of people with BE, but not found in people without it.
This means that people with genetic diseases are just as likely to get BE as anyone else, so it isn’t “genetic”.
Most people who have BE also have had H. pylori in the exact same spot for a long time. It is also possible to have H.
pylori in other places in the stomach, but not BE, so it is obvious that the two are connected, but the details of this are not yet known. It is possible that the H. pylori causes other long-term changes in the stomach, which eventually lead to Barrett’s, but this has not been proven yet.
In the future, it is possible that some people with BE may be given antibiotics to cure their infection and prevent further changes in the lining of the stomach.
Genetic diseases are caused by changes in genes which can be passed down through families (inherited). Each one is different and can affect people in different ways. Some are life-threatening, others cause mild problems.
Genes are the basic building blocks of heredity and come in pairs. They influence how our bodies work and how we will look. Genes can be altered in several ways which can cause disease.
Mutations, Viruses, and Interactions are just some of these.
Genetic diseases can be classified in several ways. One way is whether the disease is inherited or not. “Inherited” means that the disease runs in the family and is passed down from parent to child.
Another way is whether a single gene or multiple genes are involved as discussed above.
Another way is by the organ system most affected. An example is the blood clotting disorder, hemophilia. This can be inherited and is caused by a single gene mutation, Factor IX (F9).
It affects the blood system and causes problems with blood clots and bleeding.
Genetic diseases can be life-threatening or cause mild problems depending on which genes are mutated and how they affect the body.
Genetic diseases can be “cured” in several ways. Some diseases like Cystic Fibrosis (CF) can be prevented by screening tests. Others like Tay-Sachs disease and spinal muscular atrophy cannot be prevented.
The best that can be done is early detection and drug therapy to alleviate symptoms. Or organs can be transplanted.
Some diseases, like Huntington’s disease and Sickle Cell anemia, cannot be cured at all and are usually fatal.
Diseases are also classified by whether they are dominant or recessive. “Dominant” means that if only one gene is mutated, it will still cause the disease. Recessive genes require that BOTH genes be mutated for the disease to occur.
There are other topics in genetics and this glossary is just a beginning. New terms will be added as necessary.
Go back to The Genetics Home Page.
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Sources & references used in this article:
- Persistent genetic abnormalities in Barrett’s esophagus after photodynamic therapy (KK Krishnadath, KK Wang, K Taniguchi, TJ Sebo… – Gastroenterology, 2000 – Elsevier)
- Genetic differences between adenocarcinomas arising in Barrett’s esophagus and gastric mucosa (HF Frierson Jr, CA Moskaluk, JC Harper, GR Petroni… – Gastroenterology, 2001 – Elsevier)
- Barrett’s esophagus: an acquired condition with genetic predisposition. (N Fahmy, JF King – American Journal of Gastroenterology, 1993 – search.ebscohost.com)
- Germline genetic contributions to risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma, Barrett’s esophagus, and gastroesophageal reflux (, … and Barrett’s Esophagus Registry … – Journal of the …, 2013 – academic.oup.com)
- Genetic clonal diversity predicts progression to esophageal adenocarcinoma (CC Maley, PC Galipeau, JC Finley, VJ Wongsurawat… – … genetics, 2006 – nature.com)
- Genetic analysis of long-term Barrett’s esophagus epithelial cultures exhibiting cytogenetic and ploidy abnormalities (MC Palanca-Wessels, MT Barrett, PC Galipeau… – Gastroenterology, 1998 – Elsevier)
- p16 expression in Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma: association with genetic and epigenetic alterations (LJ Hardie, SJ Darnton, YL Wallis, A Chauhan… – Cancer letters, 2005 – Elsevier)