Background: It has been suggested that patients with Barrett's esophagus have a substantially increased risk of esophageal and possibly extra-esophageal cancers. We compared the incidence of cancer and the survival rates of patients with Barrett's esophagus with those observed in patients with achalasia, with Schatzki's ring, and in the general population.
Patients and methods: From 1980 through 1994, 60 consecutive patients with newly diagnosed long-segment Barrett's esophagus without dysplasia were seen in a single gastroenterology consultation office and followed until the Fall of 1999. Cancer incidence and survival rates were compared with age- and sex-matched patients with symptomatic Schatzki's ring (n = 60) and achalasia (n = 60). Survival data were also compared with those of the German population.
Results: During a mean (+/-SD) observation period of 10 +/- 5 years, 2 patients with Barrett's esophagus (3%; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0% to 11%) developed esophageal cancer, and 9 (15%; 95% CI: 7% to 27%) developed extra-esophageal cancers. These data differed only slightly from those of patients with Schatzki's ring (esophageal cancer: n = 1, 2%; 95% CI: 0% to 9%; extra-esophageal cancers: n = 9, 15%; 95% CI: 7%-27%) and achalasia (no esophageal cancers, extra-esophageal cancers: n = 3, 5%; 95% CI: 1% to 4%). Estimated 10-year survival was similar in patients with Barrett's esophagus (83%), patients with symptomatic Schatzki's ring (80%), patients with achalasia (87%), and in the general population (82%).
Conclusions: The cancer risk in patients with Barrett's esophagus has been overestimated. If patients with nondysplastic epithelium are followed, the risk of esophageal cancer is about 1 per 300 patient-years.