Background: The incidence of adenocarcinoma at the gastro-oesophageal junction is on the increase. These carcinomas are usually diagnosed too late and thus have a poor prognosis. Only early diagnosis can improve the situation. Classical Barrett oesophagus (length, >3 cm) is a known precancerous condition. There is also specialized columnar epithelium (SCE) in the grossly unremarkable gastro-oesophageal transitional zone (short Barrett).
Methods: To determine the frequency of SCE, 370 patients were investigated by gastroscopy (OGD) consecutively between September 1995 and February 1996.
Results: Classical Barrett oesophagus was found to have an incidence of 4.6%. In contrast, microscopic evidence of SCE was observed in 13.6% of the cases. Patients with short Barrett presented with reflux symptoms (odds ratio (OR), 4.7), irregular zona serrata ('tongues') in the cardia (OR, 2.8), and reflux oesophagitis significantly more frequently. Patients with reflux symptoms and concomitant 'tongues', however, had an OR of 13.16. Careful history-taking, together with a subtle histologic work-up of the gastro-oesophageal transitional zone can improve the rate of detecting patients with short Barrett.
Conclusion: Patients with reflux symptoms and irregular zona serrata should be selectively biopsied at the gastro-oesophageal junction, even when the latter presents a grossly normal appearance, with the aim of detecting patients at risk of developing a Barrett carcinoma.